By NEMS Daily Journal
Ole Miss and Virginia have been playing baseball a long time, they just haven’t played against one another very much.
Just twice in their histories have the Rebels and Cavaliers met between the lines. Today begins a best-of-three series that will send one team’s players where they’ve never been – the College World Series.
Unfamiliar as they might be, introductions wouldn’t take all that long, because the schools are quite similar both on the field and off.
Both are liberal arts campuses, and both reside in quaint college towns near which author John Grisham – whose son Ty is in law school at Ole Miss – owns a home.
Within the numbers, they are teams that pitch it well and like to play small ball. Steals – The Cavs lead the ACC with 104 – bunts and runs when things are working right.
Virginia’s 3.19 earned run average fattened itself a bit against non-conference teams early on but showed up big last weekend. The Cavs gave up only two runs in their three wins in the Irvine Regional, an NCAA tournament record.
“To go to a regional anywhere and give up only two runs is remarkable,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “I don’t know that will happen again in my college coaching career.”
Pitching like that has helped the Cavs win eight straight games, including four in the ACC tournament.
That pitching did tail off a bit against the league. Virginia’s ERA in ACC games is 4.63, compared to the Rebels at 4.10 in SEC games.
Numerically speaking, Virginia is a little better at hitting for power, at least when it’s come from Jarrett Parker, who leads the team with 16 home runs and leads the ACC with seven triples.
The Rebels’ resume
Ole Miss, meanwhile, had a better conference record in a conference that numbers say is the best. RPI ratings have the SEC at No. 1, the ACC at No. 2.
So the team still standing when Omaha’s gates are open will be the team that makes the fewest mistakes.
This series isn’t about spectacular plays in the field or tape measure home runs. They’re welcome, of course, and would make either team’s path less complicated.
This series, it appears, will be about who does what they do the best and at the most opportune times.
“We’ve pretty much played the same all year, an even keel. The difference is we’ve come up with the big hit, the big pitch more now than in a few losses,” said sophomore outfielder Dan Grovatt, who is hitting .378.
For the Rebels, it’s about making the right pitches to Grovatt and Parker.
It’s about getting down the bunt against tough ERA guys.
It’s also about a singles-hitting team producing some long balls. That’s what the Rebels did in the Oxford Regional. The big innings against Western Kentucky, on Saturday with Matt Snyder’s home run, and on Monday with Matt Smith, all had extra-base hits.
It’s about being clutch. Get that done, like starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz did Monday night against the Hilltoppers, and Ole Miss could be as successful against Virginia as it was the last time these teams played and split two games in 1972.
The Rebels lost the first one 9-3 but won the second game 9-0 to stay alive in the District III playoffs and advance to the College World Series.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about the Rebels at www.nems360.com.