The coolers were verging on empty and there was only two hours left before the bars closed when John Gatlin stepped up to the plate. The modest crowd of students in Right Field had sat through four and a half hours and 13 innings on a cold, rainy night at Swayze before Gatlin -- who knows something about waiting himself -- released them by delivering an infield single to hand the Ole Miss baseball team a 4-3 victory over UCF and their third walkoff win in a span of four days.
Now, let's be clear about this walkoff. To call it a hit is rather kind. With two outs and runners at the corners, Gatlin laced a hard ground ball to the third baseman, who had it bounce off his chest before recovering in time to deliver a throw to first. Gatlin, who missed the entire 2013 season with a fractured foot, was able to beat out the throw by a half step, stamping down on the bag with that same, now fully-healed left foot.
You have to feel good for Gatlin, who elected to come back for a fifth season after the tough injury cost him his senior year.
Chris Ellis was dominant for a third straight start. The junior righty overcame some early control issues and a strike zone as slim as Andy Kennedy's Tournament resume to work seven one-hit innings, walking four and striking out five. The one run that crossed the plate during his time on the mound was unearned, so his season ERA remains a buckshot through 22 innings.
The pen, for the most part, was lights out. Wyatt Short, Preston Tarkington, Matt Denny, Josh Laxer and Cheyne Bickel combined for five scoreless innings. Tarkington entered with the bases loaded in the ninth inning and coaxed a pop up and a strikeout to escape. Laxer was the most impressive of the bunch, striking out three and not allowing a hit through 2.2 innings.
The Rebs are struggling a bit. On the other side of the "all these walkoff wins prove this team's #toughness and makes for a great storyline!" argument is the "this team is struggling mightily against middling competition and has benefited from the opposition's late mistakes to scrape by" theory. Look, a win is a win, but late-inning ULM defensive meltdowns gifted the Rebs a pair of midweek games, and Gatlin's walkoff on Friday should have been an out.
Aaron Greenwood has collapsed. He entered a 1-1 game in the eighth inning, then immediately gave up two runs to drop the Rebs into a late 3-1 hole. He's now allowed five runs in three appearances this season and has a team-high 9.00 ERA. It's gotten to the point where you just know we're going to blow a lead when he enters, as illustrated by this text I sent to The Nkemist as Greenwood took the mound in the eighth:
Okay so we didn't lose, but you get the point. Greenwood simply has no business on the mound in close games, and I hope Mike Bianco can see what's blatantly obvious to the rest of us.
This team LOVES hitting into double plays. Ole Miss entered the weekend having grounded into 10 double plays -- twice the number of the nearest SEC team -- and added to those numbers Friday at the most inopportune times. UCF turned two in the ninth, 11th and 12th innings.