Game Story By: Jeff Roberson
It’s been since 2004 that Ole Miss was in this position, the loser’s bracket of its own NCAA Regional, that is.
But here they are, the Rebels facing a 1 p.m. Saturday game to win and keep going, or to lose and pack up for the summer.
Every college coach in America will tell you there are always a handful of teams that win a Regional from the loser’s bracket. Not many, but some. That’s what Ole Miss has to do after a 6-5 loss to four-seed Utah.
Let’s talk about Utah briefly. This was not your typical four seed. The Utes won the Pac-12. They’ve been playing with a proverbial chip on their shoulders since a terrible February and early March. Then they turned things around and went 19-11 to win the league by two games.
Utes ace Jayson Rose, who went six innings against the Rebels, can pitch in any college league and succeed. In the Pac-12 he was the strikeouts leader this season.
The three pitchers Utah used – Rose, Riley Ottesen and Dylan Drachler – were effective. Ole Miss took a lot of strikes, swung and missed at some others and actually struck out nine times.
When Ole Miss scored four runs in the fifth inning, the place was on fire. Ole Miss led 5-2 at that point. It’s where the Rebels love to be this season, leading midway through or late. But the past two games have been very unlike Ole Miss this season.
In other words, they blew leads. That isn’t them. This time Brady Feigl came in to relieve Brady Bramlett to start the sixth inning. When Will Stokes relieved Feigl there were two outs in the sixth and the game was tied 5-5.
From that point on it was anybody’s game. And ultimately Utah’s. Stokes and Wyatt Short did their jobs, but so did the Utah relievers.
“It was one of those great college baseball games,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “A lot of times you don’t see that with a one versus a four, but I think everybody was right. Utah is so good.”
Let’s face it. The Pac-12 champion – the league of the two Arizona schools, UCLA, USC, Stanford, Oregon, OSU, Washington – that champion is going to be able to compete in a one-game setting against a team that tied for sixth place in the SEC’s regular season. And they may play each other again.
Top seed Ole Miss is supposed to win game one against a four seed. Sometimes baseball doesn’t work out like it’s drawn up on paper.
Ole Miss had just seven hits in the game. The offense that ran wild in Hoover last week just didn’t prove to be the same, a lot of it due to Utah pitchers.
Veteran Utes head coach Bill Kinneberg agreed with Bianco.
“Great college baseball game tonight,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of our guys in the way they hung in there and battled back this arena, which is a great atmosphere of college baseball. I couldn’t be more proud of 27 guys that kept going and pushing and ultimately in the 10th got a big hit and got the win. Hats off to my guys. Ole Miss is a terrific team, and I feel very fortunate to have won the ball game tonight.”
But surprising folks is nothing new for Utah.
“That’s what we’ve done all year," first baseman Hunter Simmons, with three hits against UM, said. “We’ve been the underdog, and I hate that word underdog.”
They will be again tomorrow against three-seed Boston College since they’re the four seed. But not your typical four seed by any stretch.
Ole Miss, meanwhile, faces a two-seed Green Wave team that was its conference champion and was 2-0 against LSU. So they are capable. But they lost to BC 7-2 Friday.
Tomorrow at 1 p.m. David Parkinson will get the start for the Rebels.
“We’ve answered this kind of situation all year. We are really confident,” Errol Robinson said. “Going in there we have a great arm. He’s going to give us our best shot to win the game. We’re going to play our best baseball and be ready. Continue to be consistent and string things together.”
Four wins is what they’ll have to string together now that they are 0-1.
And they are capable of doing that. So stay tuned.