One For All The Marbles

In two nearly identical games, the Ole Miss Rebels and the Virginia Cavaliers have battled to a dead heat. Something has to give Sunday with the Super Regional title, and a trip to Omaha, on the line.

In Friday's game of the Ole Miss-Virginia Super Regional, the Cavaliers, leading 3-2 late in the game, blinked when 2B Keith Werman committed a costly throwing error on an Evan Button routine grounder.

The Rebs went on to win the opener 4-3 with high drama in the ninth and 12th frames.

Saturday, nearly the same scenario played out.

With the Rebs leading 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Rebel 2B Evan Button "blinked" on a routine throw to first and Virginia, sensing a crack in the armor, capitalized, coming from behind to win 4-3.

After the game in the media center under Oxford-University Stadium, Button was virtually in shock.

"I make that play 99 out of 100 times," he said softly and stoically. "I feel so bad for my team. . . "

Cav C Franco Valdes said the miscue gave his team hope.

"The same thing happened the day before against us. Werman made the late error and you could see them get a spark," said Valdes. "We got that same kind of spark when their second baseman made the bad throw.

"In a game as tight as these have been, the one who blinks is usually the one who loses. We did yesterday, they did today."

While Button's miscue was the most glaring, the Rebs had other opportunities to make plays and stretch their lead which originally materialized off a two-run homer in the first inning by Logan Power.

"We know, and you guys (the media) know that baseball is a nine-inning game and one play rarely decides a game," said Reb Coach Mike Bianco. "We had other chances to score more runs and widen our lead, but we didn't get it done."

The easy thing to do would be to point the fickle finger of blame at someone - anyone - to explain the loss away, but that would be losing sight of the fact that the Rebs and Cavs are putting on a terrific show of college baseball and Sunday's game for all the Super Regional marbles promises to be another classic.

"We will be ready and they will be ready. Mike Bianco will have his team ready and I know my guys will be ready," said Cavalier Coach Brian O'Connor. "I expect another game just like the first two."

And even though the Rebs were five outs away from their first appearance at the College World Series in Omaha since Richard Nixon was in the White House, did anyone really - deep down - think, prior to the first pitch Friday, these two Top 10 teams wouldn't go the distance and have to play a third game in the best-of-three series?

Here's one hack who expected a one-for-it-all conclusion from the jump.

In a series that has been controlled by the two pitching staffs, what's left in the tank?

Bianco named third-year junior Nathan Baker as the Sunday starter. The lefty has a 4-2 record and 3.63 ERA, second best on the squad. He has struck out 63 batters in 62 innings of work, but he has also given up 69 hits on the year. Opposing teams are batting .268 against him.

Nathan has been in big games before, but needless to say, none of this magnitude with this much on the line.

Baker was not available to the media after Saturday's game.

Normally, the third starter - at least since ace Scott Bittle has been sidelined the last month and a half - is senior lefty Brett Bukvich, but Bianco said he has some "tenderness" in his throwing arm.

The guess here, however, is that everyone except Drew Pomeranz, who pitched masterfully again Saturday before having to come out to start the 8th frame due to having thrown 146 pitches in seven innings of work, will be available for some pitching duty if needed Sunday.

In the other dugout, O'Connor would not reveal his Sunday starter, but his message was clear.

Just to get to Sunday, he had to burn part of the right arm of Andrew Carraway, who was scheduled to start Sunday but threw three innings in Saturday's game.

"We will pitch by committee and everyone, including Carraway, will be available," O'Connor stated. "In this situation, if a kid wants the ball, we will give it to him. This is for the chance to go to Omaha and we won't hold anything back."

While the Saturday loss was disheartening, it was not season-ending.

Just as the Virginia players did after Friday's loss, the Rebel players talked about "flushing" their setback and preparing themselves for another game.

"We will put this behind us and come back to the park ready to play tomorrow," said Power. "We've done this before."

Not really, my slugging young friend.

Tomorrow, at roughly 5 p.m., someone's season will be over.

And someone's season will continue to the mecca of college baseball.

If drama is what you are looking for, show up at the park Sunday. You'll get plenty.


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