From the mother ship this morning, our account of the Rebels’ 5-2 College Station Regional loss to TCU in the first of two opportunities for Ole Miss to win one game and advance to the super regionals.
Afterward Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco did not name a starting pitcher last night, but signs point to Bobby Wahl.
Bianco did say the Rebels’ ace would pitch in some capacity. The last time Bianco faced a Monday winner-take-all game in an NCAA regional was 2009 in Oxford against Western Kentucky. He threw his ace then, and Drew Pomeranz pitched the Rebels into the super regionals.
So there’s a bit of history to draw on.
Wahl threw 118 pitches in the Rebels’ 6-2 win over TCU in the regional opener, scattering four hits with no walks and nine strikeouts. One of those hits was a smash, a deep home run to left field by TCU first baseman Kevin Cron, who has had a very nice regional. Cron snuffed out an Ole Miss rally in the fifth yesterday by leaning into the camera well to catch a foul pop-up and strand three runners.
Wahl gave up two runs, both earned, in the opener.
While the availability of Wahl should bring confidence for the Rebels, this game won’t be about pitching. It will be about how the Rebels’ support their pitching.
And while Wahl can go, so can TCU’s best arms. When you get this deep in a regional, everybody has been able to rest up a bit and return to the conversation, even a team that comes from the loser’s bracket. TCU was able to minimize the damage of playing an extra game on Saturday by getting a complete game from its starting pitcher, Stefan Crichton.
Ole Miss was strong in all phases in its first two games, six runs in each. That’s not dominance, but it is efficiency from a team that had very little offensive success over the previous two weeks. Ole Miss was a team in Hoover that took encouragement from innings where it just got on base and almost scored. The Rebels had just four runs in Hoover, so for them to get here to College Station and show such improvement – particularly against the upper-level pitching of the opponents – was a big deal. The pitchers the Rebels defeated to go 2-0 were very talented. TCU’s Preston Morrison was the Mountain West Pitcher of the Year, and A&M’s Ross Stripling an All-American.
They were also right-handers, and Bianco was able to stay with the lineup tweaks that helped the Rebels show a little spark of late – Zach Kirksey in left field Sikes Orvis at DH.
The lefty-pitching lineup with righty-batter John Gatlin produced an RBI single, but nothing else, and Gatlin hurt the rally when he was thrown out trying to advance.
The Rebels didn’t really get to Morrison on Friday until the sixth inning when they tied the game with two runs. They can expect to see him again today.
It will be upper-tier pitching against upper-tier pitching for each team, and the game may turn on whose ace has the most gas left in the tank.
More than likely, it will turn on which offense – both struggling at the outset of the regional – steps up to get the hits against good pitching.