While the dust continues to settle on Ole Miss' difficult 10-9 loss to WKU Sunday, the fact remains that the team faces elimination tonight in what is sure to be a slugfest considering the depletion of arms for both teams.
WKU (42-19) has placed all the pressure on the proverbial shoulders of No. 9 Ole Miss (42-18), and bring a wealth of momentum into Oxford University/Swayze Field at 7 p.m. The free-swinging Hilltoppers proved their offensive prowess last night in the seventh, after erasing a 9-3 deficit with six runs against Rebel closer Jake Morgan.
Morgan entered Sunday sporting an ERA of 2.70. He had converted nine saves for the season, while logging 37 innings with only 36 hits surrendered all year. However, after pitching 2.1 innings of relief the night before, Morgan again appeared in the eighth, but was unable to retire a single batter he faced.
The sophomore righty allowed five hits, one walk and six earned runs before an out was ever recorded in the inning, seeing his ERA balloon to 3.65.
"If you want to be critical, obviously, he fell behind some hitters," said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco of Morgan's struggles. "It's tough to pitch with the lead. It's one of those where I'll look back at it and wonder if I should have brought him in that early, with that type of lead. (Closers) aren't used to pitching with that type of lead. But again, I think that's taking credit away from Western Kentucky and what they did at the plate."
So with the loss, all attention turns toward the finale, with Ole Miss facing considerable adversity like they have all season.
After dropping a toiling series to LSU earlier in the year, the Rebels answered with an eight game winnings streak. They salvaged a win against the in-state rival in May, before responding with a series sweep of Arkansas in Fayetteville to end the regular season.
But tonight is for all the marbles. Win or stay home. Sure, Ole Miss hasn't dropped more than two games in a row all season, but tonight, they won't be afforded that luxury.
Pomeranz Slated to Start:
LHP Drew Pomeranz, who worked 8.0 innings and allowed one run on five hits with two walks and 10 strikeouts against Monmouth Friday, is expected to start for the Rebels Monday.
Pomeranz (7-4) picked up the win for Ole Miss against the Hawks, but is making easily his quickest turnaround between starts. The Rebel ace will take the mound on two days rest compared to his usual full-week regrouping period.
"(Drew) Pomeranz will go tomorrow, as long as he can go," Bianco said. "We just want to get them out in the first inning and then we'll go from there."
While he'll start the game for the Rebels, the burden won't completely fall on Pomeranz. Bianco said every Rebel pitcher, with the exception of Sunday starter Brett Bukvich, will be available for the finale.
"Everybody will be available," said the Rebel skipper. "I'm certain a lot of guys will want the ball (Monday)."
How big was WKU's victory over Ole Miss Monday? According to Hilltopper head coach Chris Finwood, the biggest in school history.
"I've been doing this for 21 years and that is probably the best ballgame I have been a part of in terms of comebacks, the stage and the atmosphere. I have been saying it all year about these kids. To go out there and play the way they did today for 18 innings and to beat a heck of an Ole Miss ballclub in front of a great crowd with that type of comeback is an amazing feeling," said WKU head coach Chris Finwood, the 2009 Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year.
"I couldn't be more proud of them. We had a lot of big hits and they never gave up. We were able to battle back and put up a bunch of runs off an outstanding bullpen. It was a heck of a win for us and our program."
Leading off his second-straight inning, WKU first baseman Jake Wells wasted little time in completing the dramatic comeback victory, smashing a solo shot over the right field wall for the game winner. It was his first long ball in 18 games, and his fifth of the season
As a team, eight of the nine batters for WKU had at least one hit, combining for a season-high 17 singles and three home runs.
Setting Up the Finale
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