What does it take to win a hard-fought, tight game in a Super Regional, where all remaining 16 participants are quality, and relatively equal, baseball teams?
If you go by the 12-inning, come-from-behind, drama-packed, 4-3 victory by Ole Miss over visiting Virginia, it takes a little bit of everything.
Good Fortune - The Rebel hitters were not having a whole lot of success against the Cavalier pitchers, who as a staff have a combined 3.19 ERA, third in the country.
But the sun was the Rebs' ally in the bottom of the fourth with the home team trailing 1-0. Zach Miller's routine popup to shallow right was lost in the sun by Cav RF Dan Grovatt and Miller ended up on second on what easily could have been an out. Two batters later, SS Kevin Mort lined a single to center and Miller scampered home for the tying run.
The Rebs got a "legitimate" run in the sixth to cut the UVA lead to 3-2 when Miller singled and Jeremy Travis drove him home with a double, which also chased crafty Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen, the ACC Freshman of the Year. Although not luck, the Rebs were glad to see Hultzen leave the mound.
More good fortune reared its beautiful head in the bottom of the ninth when Evan Button reached on an error and Brett Basham was hit by a pitch.
"We got a gratuitous boot to start the ninth," said Rebel Coach Mike Bianco.
From there, Logan Power, hitless on the day, took over, slashing a Kevin Arico cutter into left to plate Button and send the game into extra innings.
"They brought their righthanded closer in and I knew he was going to throw me a breaking ball," said Power. "I hadn't been seeing the ball very well all day, but I sat on the cutter and was able to get the barrel on the ball and drive it through the six hole."
More good fortune came the Rebs' way in the top of the 12th when the Ole Miss infielders/pitchers suddenly forgot how to throw the ball, committing two errors that could have been costly, but melted away when Steven Proscia's long fly was gobbled up by CF Jordan Henry on the warning track for the final out of the inning.
Timely Hitting - Even though the Rebels managed 10 hits, most of them were scattered until the game was on the line.
Enter Power's huge ninth-frame ribbie and then, in even more dramatic fashion, 1B Matt Smith's walkoff blast to start the 12th.
Smith had failed to deliver the game-winner with runners in scoring position in the ninth, striking out - and looking bad doing it - on three straight Arico's sliders/cutters.
Smith was looking for the breaking ball in the 12th and launched a massive home run over the left centerfield wall to end the game.
"I was hoping he would throw me something inside. That's what I was looking for and that's what I got. I wasn't thinking home run, but I got a lot of the bat on it and it got out of the yard," a euphoric Smith said.
And while we are on the subject of timely hitting, Mort's early two-out RBI to take advantage of the sun-aided double by Miller broke the ice for the Rebel offense and Travis' double in the sixth kept the Rebels in striking distance.
Intuition - In the fifth inning, Rebel starter Phillip Irwin struggled, giving up two runs while UVA stretched their lead to 3-1.
Bianco visited the mound, presumably to lift his starter in favor of Rory McKean, who was warming up in the bullpen, but he decided to stay with the big righty.
"Phillip still had good command of his pitches and good control. He walked the leadoff guy that inning and then UVA just hit a couple of good pitches," Mike noted. "It wasn't like Phillip was all over the place, they just got some good swings off."
Bianco's intuition paid off as Irwin went two more innings and did not allow any more runs before David Goforth and Jake Morgan took over.
Guts - Prior to the contest, Morgan and LHP Nathan Baker were warming up like they do before every game.
Morgan took his eye of the ball and Baker's throw hit him in the nose, breaking it and sending blood everywhere.
With gauze packed in his nose, Morgan took the mound and pitched three scoreless innings, giving up one hit in the process with blood dripping into his mouth in the 12th inning.
"I never gave any thought to not pitching today," said Morgan, who was roughed up badly in his last outing in the regionals against Western Kentucky. "It hurt, but this is the Super Regionals."
Bianco said he never gave any consideration to taking Jake out of the game, blood and all.
"He told me he could go so we were going to go with our best until we won the game," Mike stated. "When it happened, it looked awful, and we couldn't get the bleeding to completely stop, but Jake wasn't going to let that hold him back. We trust our trainers and medical people and they told me he could pitch if he said he could. He wanted the ball and we gave it to him."
In the 12th, the blood was flowing freely, despite the gauze, but Morgan - who had to breathe through his mouth - wiped most of the blood away and got out of the two-error inning unscathed.
As gutsy a performance as has been witnessed on any Rebel field of play in some time.
Karma - The Cavs came into the game on an eight-game winning streak, having swept through the ACC Tournament and the UC-Irvine regional without a blemish and without ever being behind in any of their postseason games.
They have the third-best pitching staff - ERA-wise - in the nation and the leading team batting average in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Meanwhile, the Rebs lost two straight in the SEC Tournament and had to go to a Monday game to close out Western Kentucky in the regional behind a masterful pitching performance by Drew Pomeranz.
Karma dictated the Rebels would win the opener. Or was it reverse karma?
Whichever it was, the baseball gods shined on the Rebels today and leave them one win away - out of two chances - to reach that magical and mystical place known as Omaha, the home of the College World Series.
The Rebels under Bianco have been in this position before but have fallen short. Will Bianco do anything differently to keep the Rebels from getting too euphoric over one win or to keep them from counting their chickens before they hatch?
"It's like winning on Friday in the SEC. It's emotional now, but you have to come back and play tomorrow, like we have all year," Bianco stated. "I think they will be fine. They are headed out to eat with their girlfriends and family right now and they will be ready to play tomorrow."
Tomorrow's hopes will rest, in part, on the left arm of Pomeranz, whose last outing to clinch the regional was the stuff of legends. Complete game, two hitter with 16 Ks. Astounding.
Bianco said Pom "felt real good" warming up today, so his ace will be on the mound against UVA's Robert Morey, who became a starter midway through the season and has been Coach Brian O'Connor's "most consistent pitcher" since the switch from the bullpen took place.
It was thought 7-1 starter Andrew Carraway might be the choice in an elimination game of this magnitude, but O'Connor gave his reasons for going with Morey, a righthander.
"Since we made him a starter, Robert has been our most consistent pitcher. Andrew pitched a great game in the championship game against Irvine in the regional, but Morey has the kind of stuff that can get us to Sunday's game," said O'Connor. "If we win tomorrow, Carraway will have his opportunity."
In the postgame press conference, the UVA players said all the right things to the media. They were going to flush the loss, they have been in this position before, they have had seven or eight one-run losses and have come back strong several times during the regular season, etc.
But it's human nature to wonder how stinging this loss, which broke their torrid postseason win streak, would affect a very young team.
"This team has a lot of heart, despite being young," O'Connor reiterated. "We will be ready to play. We will bounce back with good baseball tomorrow."
Friday, the Rebels came out on top, using everything known to baseball - talent, timely play, luck, guts, determination, overcoming a deficit and adversity, and yes, even karma - to get a 1-0 lead in this best-of-three series.
One gets the feeling it will take all of the above, and some, to close the series out on Saturday.
This team has proven they have those ingredients, and some more to spare.
What it takes
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