The Task At Hand

Phillip Irwin is ready for Friday. He'll get the baseball to start the Ole Miss Rebels' first game of the Oxford Super Regional against the Virginia Cavaliers.

Irwin started last Saturday's 7-4 UM win against Western Kentucky, going 6.2 innings with 11 hits and three earned runs, along with no walks and nine strikeouts.

It was the second game of the Oxford Regional, following the Rebels 8-1 win against Monmouth.

Drew Pomeranz, the Rebel sophomore left-hander, had started the game against the Hawks. When a 10-9 Rebel loss to the Hilltoppers Sunday forced a Monday night decider, Pomeranz was called on again.

Irwin said he told head coach Mike Bianco he could probably pitch a couple of innings Monday night if needed. But Pomeranz handled them all.

"It was unbelievable," the right-handed junior said of what his teammate did. "I could not do that. I know for a fact. I told Coach I had probably two (innings) in me (Monday), if I really had to go."

But he nor any other Ole Miss pitcher "had to go." Pomeranz two-hit WKU and went the distance.

So Pomeranz needs at least another day to get his arm back. Enter Irwin, in his fourth year with the program and having by far his best season.

"It's real exciting," Irwin said of starting Friday's 1 p.m. game. "It's what I and everybody else who comes here wants to do. It's the situation you want to be in. It's going to be great."

Irwin doesn't know much about the Cavaliers (46-12), other than they're a very good baseball team. He knows how well they played in the Irvine Regional to advance.

And he's old friends with one of the Virginia pitchers. But he doesn't expect any scoop from his former high school teammate.

"I know one of their relievers, Matt Packer," Irwin said. "I went to school with him (Christian Brothers High, Memphis). I get a little bit of info. They want to win, so they aren't going to let anything good out."

But he and Packer have talked recently.

"I called him after that game (Monday night), and I was like, ‘Hey man. You're coming to Oxford.' So that's about it," Irwin said.

That he's starting the first game does in fact mean a lot to Irwin. But it's all about the team, and he wants to do his best for them.

"It's awesome," said Irwin, normally the second-day starter for the Rebels this season. "It's what you come here to do. I was fortunate enough to be put in this situation. Since Pomeranz came out and threw a great game (Monday) night, I'll be ready."

Bianco said Irwin was an obvious choice, all things considered.

"He's rested, he's pitched great, and that's why," Bianco said of the start for Irwin on Friday.

Irwin said he's learned to deal with the loudness of the crowd. But he admits it can be tough at times, which is actually a good thing since it means the fans are behind the team.

"You can't distinguish what anybody's saying," he said. "(Catcher Kyle) Henson wanted to change a signal (in the WKU game last Saturday), and the crowd's going crazy so I can't hear anything he's saying. When I struck the guy out in the first to end the inning, I got chills. It was unbelievable."

As good as things were the first two days, the third game of the Regional presented some challenges, especially afterward. The Rebels handled things as they have all year. They came back Monday in the right frame of mind, and they only thought about the task at hand.

"We're trained for that," Irwin said, mentioning that Brian Cain, a peak performance coach who has worked with the UM baseball team this year, has been a positive influence. "Like the flushing everything and the bouncing back. I think it's great because everybody is focused in and determined on what's going on at that time.

"Instead of 'we could host Virginia in a Super Regional' it's like 'how am I going to get this guy over to third or how am I going to make this pitch,'" he said "It's really helped us focus throughout the year."

The best proof of that so far this season may have come Monday night when Pomeranz was a master of the task at hand from start to finish.

"Pomeranz told me he was going nine (innings)," Irwin said. "I didn't believe him. I thought he was joking around."

Monday night was definitely no joke. Neither is what's coming up this weekend.

But the Rebels (43-18) are loose and focused and having a blast. Irwin said that's the way it should be.

"If you're not having fun right now," he concluded, "then you're in the wrong industry."

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