OXFORD – Another season, another oh-so-close to Omaha for Ole Miss baseball.
Last year, eventual national champion Texas came to the Oxford Super Regional, lost the opener, then rallied for back-to-back victories to top the Rebels and earn a berth in the College World Series.
This time around, Miami pulled off the same feat.
While not considered a category 5 Hurricanes team by Miami baseball standards, this green and orange storm showed a lot of power at the plate, on the mound, and worked the bases in the game that counted most.
For Ole Miss, which fell 14-9 in Monday's third game, the Miami mixture was fatal.
Hurricanes coach Jim Morris, who said his team was “definitely the underdog” against the red-hot SEC Tournament champions, said focus was the key.
“They never lost focus,” he said. “The credit goes to the players. It was a great effort by the entire team.”
Which team received the plane tickets to Nebraska was in doubt until Hurricanes clean-up hitter Danny Valencia ripped a grand slam home run off Rebels reliever Garrett White in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The Miami third baseman's smash, his second of the game, silenced an enthusiastic Swayze Field crowd of 7,684 and gave the visitors a comfortable 13-8 lead.
“Their pitchers threw great, but today our offense came out strong,” said Valencia, who went 3-for-3 with 7 RBI. “(On the grand slam) I was just looking to put the ball in play. He threw me a pitch I could drive. It was an awesome feeling.”
There was power on the mound, too.
Miami wasted no time going to its ace reliever, hulking 6-foot-4, 225-pound closer Chris Perez. He started the fifth inning, scattered five hits and fanned five, including Logan Power to end the game.
It was the longest outing of the season for the St. Louis Cardinals draft pick.
“I was running out of gas on my fastball,” he said, referring to the Ole Miss ninth when he gave up three consecutive singles. “My arm was pretty stiff. That's the longest I've gone this year. I usually go two innings.”
Perez made just one mistake. He left a fastball up for the Rebels' Chris Coghlan, who lost the ball over the right-centerfield fence in the seventh inning to tie the score at 8-8.
On the move
In the Game 3, Miami stole four bases and put leadoff runners on base in six innings. In five of those frames, the Hurricanes scored runs.
Miami's Jon Jay used his speed to help his team rally from a 7-6 deficit in the bottom of the sixth inning. He singled, stole second, then swiped third, and raced home with the go-ahead run when the throw to third bounced past the Rebels' Coghlan.
“When the leadoff hitter gets on, it means trouble,” Morris said. “Eventually, you're going to score a run.”
The Hurricanes' aggressive play and power in this series has them Omaha-bound.
“We just ran into a very hot Miami team,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “We could not hold them down.”
Gene Phelps (firstname.lastname@example.org) is sports editor for the Daily Journal.