A winded Henri Lartigue stood in left field with a beaming smile from ear to ear on Saturday afternoon. A couple of elated young fans rushed up to him, asking for his gloves and offering their congratulations.
“Hold on, I’ve got to talk to these guys,” Lartigue gently said as he approached the group of media gathered, waiting to hear about the scene he had just created at Oxford-University Stadium.
The man of the hour had just escaped a powder blue mob at home plate made up of his teammates joyously celebrating the junior catcher’s three-run walk off shot to right field that wrote the final chapter of Ole Miss’ (39-13, 17-10) regular season at Swayze field with a 7-5 win and a sweep over Kentucky.
“I think that’s the most beating I’ve taken all year,” Lartigue, who has been the Rebels’ backstop for 46 of its 52 games this year, said. “Being a catcher, you get beat up a little bit, but the guys got me pretty good right there.”
He stepped to the plate with men at the corners with one out in the ninth, looking to put the final nail in a comeback that had been building since J.B. Woodman’s solo home run to a similar spot put Ole Miss on the board in the fourth inning. It was the biggest moment of the game, but the routine stayed the same for Lartigue. He took a deep breath, glanced at the foul pole in left field, and dug in.
He watched a breaking ball dip beneath the zone, but was called for a strike anyway, and put him an 0-1 hole to begin the game’s final at bat.
“Starting off the at bat he threw a breaking ball that I thought was down,” Lartigue said. “I’ve had a good relationship with Jeff (Macias) the umpire, all day and if he thought it was a strike, then it might have been a strike.”
Two pitches later, Sean Hjelle offered a change up that hung up in the zone, and this time Lartigue did not leave it up to the umpire to decide what its fate would be.
“I was just continuing to try to have a quality at bat, and I think he hung a change up and I was able to put a good swing on it,” He said.
He turned on it and sent a line drive towards the wall that Kentucky right fielder Tyler Marshall appeared to have a beat on.
“I knew I hit it well, but I thought it was kind of low, and I saw him going back for it and it looked like he had a read on it,” Lartigue said of what was going through his mind as he watched heading towards first base. “He jumped up and didn’t come down with it and I knew it was gone at that point.”
The ball eluded Marshall’s glove and went over the fence and sent the nearly 9,000 at Swayze Field into a celebratory frenzy over the Rebels’ 17th win SEC win of the year and 15th in their last 19th conference games. Lartigue finished 2-5 at the plate.
“It kind of felt like the Auburn series honestly. We were hitting balls good and you could tell something was going to happen in the ninth for sure, “ Holt Perdzock said.
That series also ended in a Lartigue-sparked walk off.
Early on, the game appeared to be following a similar script to other series finales for Ole Miss this year. Its starting pitching put it in a deep hole early on that it seemingly could not climb out of. James McArthur made two early mistakes to Tristan Pompey and Javon Shelby in the second and third innings, and both sent balls over the fence to give Kentucky a 5-0 lead after three.
Things didn’t didn’t look as bright as they would a few hours later in the ninth, especially not with Kentucky’s reversed rotation that sent its ace, Kyle Cody, to the mound on Saturday as opposed to Thursday.
“After the third inning when they went up by five, I went into the dugout, and you could just feel that everybody in the dugout was just like ‘we’re not losing five to nothing,’” Lartigue said. “You can’t control how the game ends up but you can control having quality at bats, and the pitchers can go out there and make pitches, and just chip away.”
And so it began, Ole Miss started to chip away.
Brady Feigl relieved McArthur and got Ole Miss out of a jam in the third to keep the score at 5-0, and followed that up by putting three more zeros up on the board to get the Rebels to the seventh inning.
“We don’t get there without Feigl’s great outing,” Bianco said. “I think he threw fifty plus pitches, and he pitched a day ago. With one day off, he gives us that kind of effort.”
During that stretch from the freshman right-hander, the offense did its part. Woodman’s solo shot in the fourth got the Rebels on the board, and two more the next inning on a passed ball and a two-out single from Tate Blackman. The score was 5-3 after five innings. Blackman had three hits on the day.
Feigl then set the stage for an interchangeable Wyatt Short and Will Stokes combination that has combined for 16 saves and made Ole Miss awfully tough to score on in the final three frames.
“Sometimes its by design, more like on Thursday night when Feigl was the Bridge to the seventh,” Bianco said. “Today, not by design.”
An error in the seventh pecked another chip into the Kentucky lead when Ryan Olenek scored on a wide throw from the Kentucky second baseman on a ball hit by Woodman. It was now a 5-4 game.
Wyatt Short threw up an initial scoreless inning of his own before sharing one with Stokes in the eighth.
“The bullpen was just tremendous, big credit to those guys,” Lartigue said.
Ole Miss left the potential tying and go-ahead runs on the base in the 8th.
“I think it was deflating,” Bianco said. “You thought you had the opportunity, but we fought back.”
A scoreless ninth from Stokes gave the Rebels one last chance, and it was all they needed. A one-out double from Blackman, followed by a walk from Woodman, cleared the way for Lartigue’s final nail in the coffin.
“We stick together. We’ve got a great group of leaders with the captains and the seniors, and everybody is trying to be selfless and give our team a chance to win,” Lartigue said. “The most important stat is the number in the W column and I think that’s what we try to focus on every single day.”
The number in that column turned Ole Miss’ win total to 39 on the year, and its 17th SEC win seemingly locks up a bid to host a regional in Oxford, making this final chapter at Swayze Field, a potentially penultimate one. It was the Rebels’ third SEC sweep of the season.
“In our league you only have ten weekends. It’s hard to sweep,” Bianco said. “And to do it three times is pretty special.”