"Looked like Rocky out there. Pitched like Rocky as well," Bianco said of closer Jake Morgan after Ole Miss beat Virginia 4-3 in 12 innings.
Bianco said it probably looked rough on TV with blood streaming from Morgan's nose and into his mouth as he tried to wipe it away with his sleeve in the late innings of the Super Regional opener in Oxford. He is correct. It did.
Morgan went the final three innings with a hit, a walk, and a strikeout. And nothing else.
There were many storylines in this one, but Jake was as big as any.
In routine long toss warm-ups, teammate and fellow pitcher Nathan Baker threw a ball about 70 feet to the Rebel closer. For some reason Morgan wasn't paying close enough attention. The ball hit him in the face and broke his nose.
Maybe it was a bad omen for the Rebels. This was one player they couldn't afford to lose, not with former closer turned starter Scott Bittle not on the roster again.
Trainers and doctors went to work. It was tough stopping the bleeding. In the 10th through 12th innings, which Morgan pitched, the bleeding picked up again.
"The doctors gave me some pain medicine, because I didn't really feel anything," said a relieved reliever at the end. "I figured a broken nose might hurt a little more, but it kinda just went numb. I just never really felt it."
Of all the players on the team to have to deal with something like a broken nose before a game and then attempt to close it out later, the low-key, level-headed Morgan would be your guy.
But in this case, toughness wasn't as big a concern as just getting him healthy and ready to pitch, if possible.
"You see that a lot in baseball," Bianco said. "But he looked worse than most. Lot of blood. It was cut. Lot of swelling. They had a lot of trouble getting the bleeding to stop."
With Jake Morgan on the mound, there was no Cavalier bleeding to stop. Ole Miss had tied it 3-3 in the ninth and turned it over to their bloodied but not bowed dependable stopper.
"They're going to be honest if they can't go," Bianco said of his players. "I never really doubted he would be able to pitch. I figured he would be all right, unless he had some type of concussion or something. He's tough and at this point you know they're going to give you all theyv'e got."
It was obviously unclear which team was going to win it and how, certainly when that 12th inning began. The Cavaliers threatened via a couple of Rebel errors in the top of the inning.
Morgan, who got the win and is now 4-1, got the last two batters out with a popup and a fly out, and to the bottom of the 12th it went. But not for long.
Matt Smith became the late-inning storyline, along with Morgan, as he lifted the first pitch he saw that inning from Kevin Arico out of the park. A blast that left the confines of Swayze and headed toward the scoreboard, clearing the wall and falling just short of the left field terrace.
Smith ended this one with one swing of the bat, a game that had gone on for more than four hours at that point. He said he wasn't thinking home run, but he'd sure take it.
Morgan, however, said he'd be more careful from now on in pregame activities.
"I just lost concentration," he said. "I really don't remember too much."
But that will clearly be a finish Ole Miss fans will remember for a long time.
Jake and Matt, a winning combo
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