By Chris Talbott/The Associated Press
OXFORD — Ole Miss’ Matt Smith remembers watching his game-winning home run sail over the left-field wall.
Then, things get hazy.
Smith’s solo homer in the bottom of the 12th inning and some knockout pitching from closer Jake Morgan, whose nose was broken by an errant throw in pregame warmups, gave Ole Miss a 4-3 come-from-behind win over Virginia on Friday in a super regional game.
“The place just went nuts,” Smith said. “I don’t remember much after that. I kind of remember coming home and I was on the ground with the team on top of me.”
Ole Miss snapped Virginia’s eight-game winning streak and handed the Cavaliers their first loss of the postseason. Smith’s homer marked the first time this postseason that Virginia trailed.
The Cavaliers (46-13-1) used pitching and defense, as advertised, to build an early lead and appeared to be on the way to a narrow 3-2 win when a momentary lapse of concentration in the bottom of the ninth inning allowed the Rebels (43-18) back in it.
Second baseman Keith Werman committed a fielding error to open the inning, then reliever Matt Packer hit a batter. Two batters later, Logan Power’s single tied it at 3.
Morgan (4-1) entered in the top of the 10th and shut Virginia down despite the gauze stuffed in his broken nose and two black eyes. At one point, coach Mike Bianco visited a gory Morgan on the mound.
“It was still bleeding out on the mound,” Bianco said. “It was dripping down his face. It was probably great for television.”
And irrelevant as far as Morgan was concerned. He said the broken nose wasn’t a problem, thanks to general numbness and some pain medication.
He gave up just one hit and struck out one in three innings, with only one real challenge: Phil Gosselin’s pop fly that floated to the warning track.
“He looked like Rocky out there, but he pitched like Rocky as well,” Bianco said.
The Rebels needed a knockout blow against the Cavaliers, whose pitchers shut the Rebels down until the ninth. Starter Danny Hultzen, the Atlantic Coast Conference freshman of the year, Tyler Wilson and Packer had held the Rebels to seven hits. Worse, Ole Miss was 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position as Power came to bat.
Closer Kevin Arico (2-3) allowed just three hits in 2 2-3 innings, but two brought home runs for the Rebels. They ended up scoring twice as many runs as the Cavaliers allowed in three games at the Irvine Regional last weekend in what was the longest contest for both teams this season.
Ole Miss will try to clinch the best-of-three series and its first trip to the College World Series since 1972 by sending Drew Pomeranz to the mound Saturday. Virginia, a team that was almost reduced to club status in 2001, is seeking its first trip to Omaha, Neb., and needs two wins.
Virginia coach Brian O’Connor doesn’t expect his young team to be flat after such an emotional loss. They’ve had tough one-run losses before, after all.
“These guys have always responded,” O’Connor said. “They’ve never rolled over.”
Read all about it in Saturday’s NEMS Daily Journal.