By Maren Angus
Playing deep into the Mexican night, Ole Miss and Oregon showed a standing-room only Nancy Almaraz Stadium in Puerto Vallarta, why they are both ranked Top 15 in the nation.
With international tie breaker rules in affect because of the tournament-style play and scoreless tie, Ole Miss had Paige McKinney on second base with one-out in the bottom of the ninth inning. Elantra Cox stepped to the plate, with two strikes, took a pitch from Megan Kleist back up the middle. The single scored McKinney and walked the No. 15 Rebels off 1-0 against the No. 3 Ducks and tied the program record for career hits (263).
“I was just thinking choke and poke and try to get it through,” said Cox about her last at bat. “My biggest thing is trying to get the high hop and that didn’t work so I was just trying to get it through. I knew once she (DJ Sanders) took a stutter step that the ball got through. I’m just so happy right now!”
The matchup was a classic pitchers duel between Kaitlin Lee and Megan Kleist. Kleist set a new career-high with 16 strikeouts in nine innings but it was Lee who prevailed. Lee not only held the Ducks in the ballpark but she limited them to four hits.
“Kaitlin Lee pitched an unbelievable game,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Smith. “I don’t know if I could’ve watched much better than last year and her postseason run but what she was able to do against the No. 3 team in the country, with the hitters that they have… Kaitlin Lee she is a warrior and I’m glad she’s on our team.”
Both teams had trouble executing small ball and defenses where mistakes were nonexistent until the eighth inning. Oregon had runners on first and second with nobody out when Lauren Lindvall laid down a sacrifice bunt. Dylinn Stancil fielded the bunt and got the lead runner at third and for some strange reason, Lindvall turned into the dugout from first. Because she reached the dugout, Lindvall was called out and the Ducks went from two runners on with one out, to one on with two out. Lee escaped the jam by getting Haley Cruse to line out to Stancil at third.
It may not have gone down in the scorebook as an error, but that mistake switched the momentum. Cruse was on second in the top of ninth when Alexis Mack popped a bunt up. Jenna Lilley followed with a single to McKinney at shortstop but her diving effort prevented Cruse from advancing. Shannon Rhodes flied out to center and Gwen Svekis grounded out to short.
Lee knew after getting through the top of the Oregon lineup unscathed a third time that Ole Miss was going to win the game.
“I walked into the dugout and looked at my pitching coach and she said, ‘Alright, we are about to win it right here because I’m done.’ I told her I was done too and I went and sat down and that was it. I knew it was about to happen.”
The win for Ole Miss came after a disappointing 6-0 loss to Houston the night before and being no-hit by Lipscomb in the Sand Dollar Classic, but according to Cox beating the No. 3 team in the country helps the mind forget about those games.
“That tops everything,” Cox said. “Beating the No. 3 team in the nation puts everything in a different perspective. It’s amazing for us, amazing for the program and it’s just a foot in the door and we are headed up from there. This is a win that will never be forgotten and will stay in our hearts for sure.”