Baseball junkies say good pitching beats good hitting, and you need look no further than the NCAA Oxford Regional for solid evidence.
The Ole Miss Rebels are alive today and preparing for their fourth super regional in five years because of one of the great individual clutch athletic performances in school history.
Sophomore left-hander Drew Pomeranz took the ball on two days’ rest and did what no other pitcher in the regional had done to the Western Kentucky lineup.
He mowed them down.
The No. 3 seed Toppers had previously stroked Ole Miss pitching for 32 hits in two games.
Pomeranz carried a no-hitter into the seventh when he gave up two infield singles, one of which should have been ruled an error. He walked one and struck out a career-high 16 in the 4-1 Ole Miss win.
At the beginning of the regional you had to look at Western’s gaudy offensive numbers and think three words: Sun Belt Conference.
Perhaps that’s what Missouri coach Tim Jamieson was thinking when he held his ace, Kyle Gibson, in the tournament opener.
Having watched Western Kentucky rack up the numbers it did against the regional field, it’s clear the Toppers were legit.
Outside of Ole Miss and Gibson, who the Toppers never saw, this wasn’t a regional with great pitching.
But Western pounded better-than-average arms relentlessly. When the Toppers saw a good pitcher – Ole Miss reliever Jake Morgan – for a second time, they made adjustments and crushed him.
All this underscores the significance of the achievement by Pomeranz.
Western’s hitters called Pomeranz and Phillip Irwin, who started the Rebels’ 7-4 Saturday win with five straight scoreless innings, the best pitchers they’d seen this year.
The Rebels also had the bullpen to win the Saturday game, that depth perhaps the most notable difference between the SEC and the Sun Belt.
Asked to compare the arms he saw in Oxford to those he saw in the regular season, Western home run leader Wade Gaynor assessed the Sun Belt as “not as many power arms but some good starters.”
Western’s starters gave the Toppers a chance, but when the regional championship was on the line coach Chris Finwood would have liked a few more options.
“In a 1-1 game for the regional championship, we’re down to a kid with an 8.00 ERA and guys running on fumes,” he said.
Play on the mound has defined Ole Miss all season. Missing their best pitcher, Scott Bittle, for the last month, the Rebels needed someone to reach another level. Pomeranz was that candidate. He was a six-inning guy for most of the regular season, but this weekend he didn’t have that option.
Now as the Rebels stand at the door of the College World Series – again – the rest of their pitchers will also need to crank it up a notch against Virginia, the ACC leader in hitting (.331 BA) and pitching (3.19 ERA).
If the Ole Miss arms are at their best, that age-old theory might help the Rebels cross the threshold.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs about Ole Miss athletics at www.nems360.com.
NEMS Daily Journal