No. 8 Ole Miss was unable to muster a hit against Cavalier starter Danny Hultzen until the third inning, but was able to find enough offense in the ninth and 12th, as the Rebels downed No. 5 Virginia 4-3 in walk-off fashion in the first game of the 2009 NCAA Oxford Super Regional.
Sophomore Matt Smith launched a first-pitch fastball from closer Kevin Arico over the left field wall in the bottom of the 12th inning, giving his team a 1-0 advantage in the series and possible Omaha berth tomorrow at 11 a.m.
"In my last at-bat (in the ninth inning), the pitcher struck me out on three straight cutters," said Smith. "I went to the next at-bat and told myself I was going to move up to the front of the box, crowd the plate a little and see if he would challenge me in. The first pitch was a fastball and I didn't try to do too much. I just tried to barrel it up. The ball went out of the park, and the place went nuts. I didn't really remember much after that."
"It's pretty simple. I threw him a fastball, left it up in the zone and right over the heart of the plate," Arico said. "He did what any good hitter is going to do – hit it hard. He crushed it."
With the win, the Rebels (44-18) now hold an all-time record of 41-31 in the NCAA Tournament and 3-6 in Super Regional games.
"What can you say? It was a tremendous baseball game," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. "It was played very well until the end. They made an error in the ninth that opened it up and we made a couple there in the 12th, but were able to get through it. Great pitching performance by Irwin. Matt Smith crushed one. It was an electric atmosphere. It's tough when any team loses that type of game, because both teams played well."
In his 14th start of the year, junior Phillip Irwin pitched seven innings of nine-hit baseball in the win, surrendering three earned runs, with five strikeouts and two walks over 117 pitches. The Rebel right-hander gave way to RHP David Goforth in the eighth, with the freshman adding two innings of scoreless relief.
Irwin, who entered the day sporting an ERA of 3.80, showed resiliency in the first Super Regional start of his career, after allowing one run in the second inning and two in the fifth.
He held Virginia (46-13-1) scoreless in the sixth and seventh innings, allowing three runners to reach base over that span, but surrendered no runs. Irwin left the game with the team trailing 3-2.
"I felt good today," Irwin said. "I felt I had good stuff. I had my fastball and challenged them with it. I battled through a couple of tough times, but fortunately the wind was blowing in. I got a couple of balls to the warning track."
But it was junior closer Jake Morgan who got the win for the Rebels, as he allowed no runs in three innings of work, with one hit and a walk. Morgan's availability was in question before the game, as he broke his nose after being struck by a baseball during warm-ups.
"The doctors gave me some pain medicine, so I didn't really feel anything. I actually felt better than I usually do out there," said Morgan of pitching through the pain. "Maybe it was my adrenaline going, but everything was fine."
"It was still bleeding out on the mound," Bianco said of Morgan's broken nose. "It was dripping down his face. It was probably great for television. He looked like Rocky out there. He pitched like Rocky as well."
The Cavaliers got the scoring started in the top of the second, as Steven Proscia singled up the middle to lead off the inning. After Irwin logged consecutive strikeouts of Tyler Cannon and John Hicks, Cavalier catcher Franco Valdes sent a double to left field to score Proscia.
Ole Miss answered in the fourth, when Zach Miller notched a bloop single with two outs to rally. It appeared to be a routine fly ball, with 2B Keith Werman and RF Dan Grovatt converging, but neither made the call. After a Jeremy Travis strikeout, Kevin Mort singled to centerfield to plate Miller.
Virginia struck for two more in the top of the fifth, however, as a Valdes walk would prove costly for the Rebels. The junior advanced to second after a Werman SAC bunt, and was brought home by a Jarrett Parker double to the left-center gap. Phil Gosselin plated Werman with an RBI single to right, giving Virginia a 3-1 advantage.
Neither team would score again until the sixth, as Miller singled to center with one out in the inning. RF Jeremy Travis followed with a double to left-center to plate Miller, cutting the deficit to 3-2, with only one out. However, Tyler Wilson, who had relieved Hultzen, was able to get out of the jam with no further damage.
From there, both teams were held scoreless until the ninth inning, when Ole Miss was able to tie and send them game into extras. Evan Button got the rally started, as he reached first on an error by Werman on a routine grounder to second. Brett Basham followed with a hit-by-pitch, before Jordan Henry popped up a bunt attempt down the third base line for the first out.
Logan Power, 0-4 up to that point, then stepped to the plate and raked the first pitch he saw to left to score the equalizer. The clutch at-bat extended Power's school-record RBI total to 178.
But with men on first and second and one out, Smith and Henson struck out to end the threat.
Hultzen finished with a line of 5.1 innings pitched, with five hits, one run and five strikeouts. The ACC Freshman of the Year was also 1-for-5 from the plate, with one walk and a strikeout. Hultzen, who had hit only five batters entering the day, plunked two Rebels in the first and third innings.
Each team left 11 men on base for the afternoon. As a team, Ole Miss struck out 10 times, compared to nine for Virginia. Three Cavaliers reached base in extra innings, but two were by way of errors in the 12th.
The Rebels moved to 19-15 in NCAA Tournament games under head coach Mike Bianco and are 18-1 this season when allowing opponents between 3-5 runs.
Henry reached on a walk in the first inning and went 1-for-4 with a pair of stolen bases in the contest. He has now reached base safely in 58-of-61 games this season and increased his school-record stolen base total to 37 for the year.
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