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No. 6/12 Ole Miss Edges Liberty, 6-5

February 20, 2009  Mobile, Ala.  RSS
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Jeff Jefferson hit a three-run home run Friday.

Jeff Jefferson hit a three-run home run Friday.

A seventh inning sacrifice fly by second baseman Zach Miller pushed the No. 6/12 Ole Miss Rebels past the Liberty Flames, 6-5, in a tightly contested season opening contest for both teams, Friday at the Coca Cola Classic at Stanky Field.

Despite outhitting the Rebels, 9-8, Liberty starts the season 0-1, while Ole Miss begins its season, 1-0. It was the first ever meeting between the two programs on the diamond. With their first loss in a season opener since 2004, the Flames fall to 23-11 in their first game of the year since 1976. In addition, Liberty drops to 12-38-1 since 1976 against nationally ranked opponents.

After the Flames were retired in order in the top of the first inning, the Rebels, the home team on the scoreboard jumped out to an early lead, scoring four runs on five hits. Leadoff hitter Jordan Henry began the first frame outburst by legging out an infield single to shortstop.

After Henry stole second and left fielder Michael Hubbard walked, first baseman Matt Smith singled to right field, plating Henry with the first run of the contest. Right fielder Power followed by hitting the first pitch he saw over the left field wall to give Ole Miss a quick, 4-0 advantage.

Liberty tied the game in the top of the third frame, striking for four runs with two outs. With one out, shortstop Matt Williams (Fr., Franklin, Tenn.) bounced a single up the middle of the diamond for Flames' first hit of the contest and moved to second on a ground out by center fielder Curran Redal (Jr., Moses Lake, Wash.). Right fielder Tim Rotola (Sr., Wichita, Kan.) followed with an infield single, putting Liberty runners at the corners.

The next batter, second baseman P.J. Jimenez (Jr., Yucaipa, Calif.), lined a single to right field over the head of the Rebels' first baseman to score Williams with the Flames' first run of the game. Left fielder Jeff Jefferson (So., Danville, Va.) then ripped the first pitch from Ole Miss starter Aaron Barrett over the left field wall, just to the left of the Stanky Field scoreboard, to knot the contest at 4-4.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Rebels cashed in a run on their first hit off Liberty starter Dustin Umberger since their first inning outburst, breaking the tied at 5-4. With one out, Power reached by being hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a walk to designated hitter David Phillips. Third baseman Evan Button followed with a single to left, putting Ole Miss on top, 5-4.

However, the Rebels' edge was short lived. In the top of the sixth, Liberty countered with a run of its own, once again tying the contest. With one out, catcher Errol Hollinger (Sr., Upland, Calif.) laced a grounder which went through the legs of Ole Miss shortstop Kevin Mort for an error. The next Flames' batter, third baseman Tyler Bream (Fr., Zelienople, Pa.), roped a double into the right field gap, plating Hollinger from first base to knot the score at 5-5.

In the bottom of the inning, the Rebels put a runner aboard with two outs, when Hubbard lined a pitch off the foot of Umberger for a single. However, Liberty's Rotola ended the frame by running down a liner to right field, crashing into the outfield fence to rob the next batter Smith of an extra base hit.

Ole Miss pushed a run across in the bottom of the seventh to go back on top for the third time on the afternoon, 6-5. Power singled to lead off the frame. After a pitching change for the Flames, new designated hitter Taylor Hashman drew a walk. Two batters later, the base runners executed a double steal to put Rebels on second and third with one out. Miller then lifted a sacrifice fly to left field, bringing home Power and giving the Rebels the lead.

Liberty starter Umberger takes the setback in his first outing of the season. The right-hander allowed six runs on eight hits, striking out five and walking three over six innings of work. Steven Evans (So., LHP, Amherst, Va.) followed, giving up no runs or hits, while walking one in two frames of relief.

Ole Miss starter Barrett did not figure in the decision. He allowed four runs on six hits, striking out seven and walking one. Reliever Jake Morgan yielded an unearned run on one hit in two innings of work to pick up the win. He struck out three and walked one. Preseason All-American Scott Bittle earned a save with a scoreless ninth.

Bream, Jimenez and Rotola each had two hits to lead the Flames, who outhit the Rebels, 9-8. Power and Button had two hits apiece for Ole Miss. Power and Liberty's Jefferson each had three RBIs in the game.

Liberty plays Coca-Cola Classic host South Alabama twice tomorrow. The Flames will square off in the first game of the day at Noon and complete the day by battling in the third game of the day at Stanky Field at 7 p.m.