OMAHA, Neb. – Mississippi’s bats were quiet to start the Rebels’ first trip to Omaha in 42 years. They were 1-for-32 to start.
The bats did get going in wins against Texas Tech and TCU to get Ole Miss to Saturday’s resumption of Friday’s suspended game against Virginia. They went cold once again against the Cavaliers’ stellar arms in a 4-1 loss.
In a year that saw the Rebels tie the school record for wins (48) and won two games in the CWS for the first time since 1956, they had their chances once play resumed in the second inning after Friday saw the fourth weather delay at the CWS on June 20 in the past five years.Ole Miss started its CWS run by being one-hit at the hands of Virginia, and Saturday’s task wouldn’t be much easier against Josh Sborz who threw just 12 pitches on Friday night before the game was called. Virginia has allowed two earned runs in 33 innings of CWS play for an 0.55 ERA. The CWS record for lowest ERA in a series, in a minimum four games, is 0.60 by California in 1957, and Virginia held Ole Miss to two runs in two games. In their two wins, the Rebels scored eight runs.
“[Virginia’s] tremendous in the two games that we played them,” Missisisppi head coach Mike Bianco said. “They just make it very hard on you. Man, they're good. They can really pitch, they can really hit and defend, they run the bases. They're just an outstanding ballclub, and obviously deserve to win.”
Mississippi designated hitter Will Allen started the second inning with a single and scored when J.B. Woodman was thrown out trying to steal second base. Allen took off from third base on the throw. Ole Miss was ahead thanks to yet another inning in which the Rebels scored when they had two or more runners on base. It was the eighth time in 10 such instances in the CWS.
The only problem -- that well ran dry.
In the third inning, already with that 1-0 lead, Ole Miss loaded the bases against Sborz. It had its guy at the plate in Allen – by far the team’s best hitter of late. On a 1-1 pitch, Allen hit it on the nose, but it was right at third baseman Kenny Towns. All of the sudden Ole Miss was 8-for-11 with more than one runner on base. That one hurt.
“We left an opportunity out there and they were able to answer right back and kind of took the momentum,” Bianco said. “You look at opportunities, but we didn't have many opportunities after that. That was really the struggle, that they pitched so well and we just really didn't have opportunities after that, because they're so good on the mound and so good defensively.”
Faced with the same situation just a half inning later against the Rebels’ ace Chris Ellis, Virginia backup catcher Robbie Coman lined a double to score two runs – the fifth time this season he’d driven in more than one run. The Cavs had their lead they wouldn’t relinquish an inning after Coman had helped UM score the first run with a passed ball.
“I'm sure I was a little nervous to start,” Coman said. “You get second opportunities in this game and I really wanted to take advantage of it. But I was just trying to hit to the situation. Wasn't trying to do too much, just a usable pitch that I could send somewhere in the outfield and it worked out for the best.”
Ellis was making his first relief appearance of the season, entering the game in the third inning after Scott Weathersby got out of first-and-second, nobody out when the game resumed. Ellis didn’t have his best command, lasting 3.2 innings while walking four, allowing four hits and three runs. It was the first time all season Ellis failed to record a strikeout.
“Just comes down to not walking people, they can all hit, they can all drive in runs, obviously,” Ellis said. “I thought that's what hurt me was walking guys that got in scoring position. Doesn't matter where you hit in the lineup, if you give them the opportunity they usually get an RBI or come up with a big hit, seemed like. That's just it, they're all good hitters. “
His coach was still pleased with his first work out of the bullpen in more than a year.
“It wasn't Ellis’ best day, but at the end of the day I think you gotta put your ace out there, when your back's against the wall,” Bianco said. “If he's physically able to pitch and he's healthy and he wants the ball and he's ready to go. So I'm happy with it. “
One final opportunity with more than one runner on base came in the fifth for UM. Those were the tying runs and once again Allen was at the plate with two outs. He lifted the final pitch of Sborz’s day into foul territory beyond the first-base dugout. Virginia first baseman Mike Papi ranged over and reached a couple rows into the crowd to snag it.
Inning over. Mississippi’s final threat – over.
“It comes down to who is going to get the big hit or who doesn't walk them or make the errors, and if you look back at the games that we lost, you know, there was a little bit of that, and the other team just played a little cleaner than we did,” Bianco said.
Ole Miss put runners on base in seven of the nine innings. It was better than its first appearance against the Cavs. It just wasn’t enough.