By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco did not require a good night’s sleep, a staff meeting or extra scouting of his opponent to make his first big decision of the NCAA tournament.
He’s pitching Drew Pomeranz.
Often in tournament play, a coach will consider a change in his pitching rotation, particularly against a lower-seeded opponent.
“We’re going to go with Pomeranz. We need to win and move on. I don’t think we’re in a position to do other things,” Bianco said.
The No. 2 seed Rebels open NCAA play in the Charlottesville Regional Friday night at 7 against No. 3 seed St. John’s, the Big East tournament champion.
Virginia, ranked No.1 by Baseball America, seeded No. 1 in the regional and No. 5 overall, plays the first game against No. 4 seed Virginia Commonwealth, the Colonial Athletic Association tournament champion.
Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said he isn’t likely to announce a Game 1 starter for a few days. The Cavaliers currently sport a team earned run average of 3.67. They lead the ACC in pitching and rank seventh in the nation in the latest release of NCAA statistics.
Virginia sophomore left-hander Danny Hultzen leads the ACC in ERA (2.43) and opponent batting average (.184). He’s 9-1 in 14 starts with 111 strikeouts an 20 walks in 922⁄3 innings.
Hultzen started the super regional opener in Oxford last year, going 51⁄3 innings with five hits, two earned runs, a walk and five strikeouts. He did not get a decision in a game Ole Miss eventually won 4-3 in 12 innings.
St. John’s is expected to start freshman right-hander Kyle Hansen, the MVP of the Big East tournament. He’s 7-1 with a 3.33 ERA, 76 strikeouts and 31 walks in 81 innings.
The Red Storm is just in the middle of the pack among Big East pitching staffs with a 5.01 team ERA, but pitched strong in the conference tournament, allowing only 10 runs in four games. St. John’s twice defeated regular season champion Louisville, a No. 7 national seed in the NCAA tournament, by scores of 6-5 and 5-3.
Hansen threw 61⁄3 scoreless innings in the championship game, and St. John’s went on to shut out UConn 3-0.
It was Pomeranz, though, who was highlighted during ESPN’s analysis of the Charlottesville Regional field during Monday’s selection show.
“It’s cool to see yourself up there, but you still have to play good in the games,” Pomeranz said.
He has managed to do that. The SEC Pitcher of the Year, Pomeranz (8-2) leads the league in ERA (2.21), strikeouts (134) and opponent batting average (.190).
In the latest release of NCAA numbers his 13.18 average strikeouts per nine innings ranks third among all pitchers, first among starters.
“It doesn’t matter to me whether I pitch the first game or the second,” he said. “We need to win the first game no matter what. If I pitch the first game, then we see if Barrett can beat them in the second game. I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”
Confident about Barrett
A senior right-hander, Aaron Barrett (7-4, 4.16) has had quality starts more often than not, even when they haven’t resulted in wins.
He went eight innings in a 3-2 win over Arkansas on May 8, his most recent victory.
Since then he carried a no-hitter into the seventh at Alabama but got a no-decision in a 4-1 Ole Miss loss and left the SEC tournament in the seventh against the Crimson Tide trailing 3-0.
Between those starts, Auburn hit him hard with eight runs and two home runs in 22⁄3 innings.
“The thing is, how good is your No. 2?” Bianco said. “We have a lot of confidence in Aaron that he can pitch and win in that winner’s bracket game, which is so important
“Whether you win and lose or lose and win, it’s the same thing. To have an advantage, you have to win the first two, and it’s a huge advantage.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.