Kylan Becker pondered wether it would be her final collegiate at-bat. The result helped ensure that was not the case.
With Ole Miss down 4-3 in the seventh inning of a winner-take-all regional championship game against a 52-win Louisiana team, Becker legged out an infield single and later scored the winning run in a 5-4 walk-off victory that kept the Rebels’ season alive for at least another weekend.
“We had our backs against the wall and this team stepped up,” head coach Mike Smith said. “I don’t think I have ever been as proud of a team as I am with this one.”
The inning that changed the fate of Ole Miss’ season began with a Mikayla double to the right-center gap. She moved to third on Becker’s infield hit and scored on a squeeze play to tie the game a four apiece. Autumn Gillespie dropped down a bunt and Allee slid in safely. The game ended a batter later when Kaylee Horton hit a chopper to Alissa Dalton, who had no chance to retire Becker at the plate once she fielded the ball.
“With Kylan on third, she is fast so I was thinking hit the drop ball and pound it into the ground,” Horton said. “It worked.”
It capped a comeback that required the team to win three consecutive elimination games after a 2-0 Saturday loss to Louisiana pushed the Rebels into the loser’s bracket. Ole Miss staved off elimination twice on Sunday alone. It took a 5-1 win earlier in the day to get to a to a winner-take all game, snapping the Ragin’ Cajuns 29 game winning streak. Louisiana had lost back-to-back games just once all year.
“We knew we were going to win today when we came to the field,” Becker said. “I think I got a little emotional after that first loss on Saturday. I got a little teary eyed. A little emotional. Today there were no tears. We were confident we were going to do this. We have been battle tested all year.”
Becker went 9-for-15 on the weekend. After Ole Miss jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, Becker robbed a would-be game-tying home run off the bat of Ragin Cajun catcher Julia Rawls. Ole Miss had to face Louisiana pitcher Summer Ellyson twice on Sunday. Ellyson boasted a 39-4 record, a 0.98 ERA and tossed a three-hit shutout in the Saturday win over the Rebels. Becker had two of those hits. The rest of the team was 1-for-20.
“Kylan Becker, wow,” Louisiana head coach Gerry Glasco said. “That was the first time I had seen her play in a couple of years. She is an outstanding player. I enjoyed watching her compete this weekend.”
The Rebels saw a 3-0 lead evaporate with one crack of the bat when Raina O’Neal clubbed a three-run shot to left-center field in the fifth inning. Smith elected to pull Brittany Finney in favor of Molly Jacobson and the second pitch Jacobson threw in the game landed over the fence. Louisiana plated another run in the sixth inning to take a 4-3 lead. Ole Miss was again facing elimination, down to its last six outs.
“What a game,” Smith said. “What a day for us. We had a never say die attitude. We were disappointed after the loss yesterday and we came back with a vengeance. We wanted to get to a super regional. I am happy this senior class is going to get that opportunity.”
Five years after inheriting a program that had never scored a run in the SEC Tournament, Smith has Ole Miss headed to its second super regional in three years — the only two appearances in school history.
“Man, if someone had told me that we would have the opportunity of being two wins away from the College World Series just five years into this program from where it was when I started, I wouldn’t have believed them,” Smith said. “I probably would’ve put a paycheck on it, not that I am a betting person. But it is not about me. It is about us. Our staff. Our staff tirelessly works and these kids go out and work.”
It didn’t come without adversity. The Rebels were given a tough draw with a 50-win two seed being placed in their regional. They won three games in a row in a span 26 hours, twice beating the team that put them in that position after the Saturday loss. Ole Miss squandered a 3-0 and was down to its last three outs. The Rebels survived all of it.
Smith spoke after the game about why he coaches the players so hard, why he doesn’t let up and continuously stays on them. He wants them to experience super regionals, to have a chance to go a College World Series. Becker stepped the plate in the seventh wondering if she’d ever step in a batter’s box again. Now, she and the rest of her teammates will get to experience everything Smith envisioned. The Rebels will head to Tucson, Arizona to face the Arizona Wildcats in a super regional.
“I want them to experience those things,” Smith said. “Those are things you can’t take back and things that will last a lifetime.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Joshua McCoy — Ole Miss Athletics