OXFORD – Unfazed by pitching on two days rest, Drew Pomeranz looked like he’d just stepped off a Caribbean cruise.
Relaxed, confident and dominant, the sophomore left-hander for Ole Miss carried a no-hitter for 71⁄3 innings and pitched the top-seeded Rebels to a 4-1 win over No. 3 seed Western Kentucky for the Oxford Regional championship before 8,255 fans at Swayze Field Monday night.
Ole Miss will be at home beginning Friday for an NCAA Super Regional against Virginia. Game times are 1 p.m. Friday on ESPN2, 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN2.
A third game, if necessary, would be Sunday at 2 on ESPN. The winner advances to the College World Series.
Pomeranz, voted the Oxford Regional’s most valuable player, pitched a complete game with a career-high 16 strikeouts, allowing only an unearned run on two hits in the seventh.
Combined with an eight-inning performance in the Rebels’ 8-1 win over No. 4 seed Monmouth on Friday, Pomeranz allowed two runs, one earned, in 17 innings for the weekend. He threw 119 pitches after throwing 109 against Monmouth.
“It was a legendary performance,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “We talked about it today in the coaches’ meeting and felt it. We knew Drew was the type that could give that Curt Schilling bloody sock performance that people remember for the rest of their lives.”
Pomeranz dominated a lineup that had dominated the Oxford Regional for the first three days.
The Sun Belt Conference Hilltoppers (42-20) entered the championship game hitting a collective .366 in four previous regional games. Four Western hitters were batting .389 or better, three better than .400, and they were led by catcher Matt Rice at .550 in 20 at-bats.
“What they had done was not a fluke, and we are excited to move on,” Bianco said.
What Western had done was stun an overflow crowd Sunday by rallying from a 9-3 deficit in the eighth to force the one-game playoff. Ole Miss (43-18)defeated Western Kentucky 7-4 on Saturday to drop the Toppers into the loser’s bracket.
Pomeranz told Bianco he felt good enough to pitch late in Sunday’s game if necessary. He was not used but spent his time evaluating the Toppers’ boppers, who had stroked the Rebels’ pitching for 32 hits over the two previous meetings.
“Last game we struggled, because we weren’t getting ahead in counts. They were able to sit on certain pitches,” Pomeranz said. “I started in the first inning just trying to hit spots, get ahead and keep them off balance.”
He was able to do that by commanding his curve while locating his fastballs.
“He pitched like a big-leaguer,” Western Kentucky coach Chris Finwood said.
Rebels break through
While Pomeranz repeatedly hung zeros on the scoreboard the Rebels finally broke through against Western right-hander Matt Ridings, who was also pitching on two days’ rest, in the sixth.
Matt Smith singled with one out, and scored when Kyle Henson doubled to center field.
The Toppers answered in the bottom of the seventh. Oxford native Chad Cregar broke up the no-hitter with a hard shot to Smith at first. Smith was moving to his right. The ball bounced off his body, and the hit ruling was booed by the crowd.
Cregar stole second, and after Pomeranz got a pop-fly out from Terrence Dayleg, designated hitter Matt Hightower hit a shot off Pomeranz’ body that was an easier call as the second hit.
It left Pomeranz and bounced to Evan Button at second base. Button didn’t field it cleanly, and Cregar ran through his coach’s stop sign at third base to score what proved to be the Toppers’ only run.
The Rebels put up three in the eight, two touching home on a triple to the right-center gap by Smith, who scored on a two-out double by David Phillips.
Bianco warmed some arms in the pen, but Pomeranz retired the bottom three of the order in succession in the eighth. There was little question who would begin the ninth.
Pomeranz got a called strikeout of leadoff hitter Anthony Coleman, a swinging strikeout of Rice and retired Gaynor, who had two home runs Sunday including the game-tying three-run blast, with a fly ball to a sliding Jordan Henry in center.
“(Pomeranz) had a heavy fastball, and his curve was really sharp,” said Cregar, who lined hard to center and grounded to first in two other at-bats. “He was painting inside and out. It was amazing. He was the same pitcher in the last inning that he was in the first.”
Oxford Regional All-Tournament Team
C, Matt Rice, Western Kentucky
1B, Matt Smith, Ole Miss
2B, Evan Button, Ole Miss
3B, Wade Gaynor, Western Kentucky
SS, Kevin Mort, Ole Miss
OF, Chad Cregar, Western Kentucky
OF, Aaron Senne, Missouri
OF, Jordan Henry, Ole Miss
OF, Logan Power, Ole Miss
DH, Matt Snyder, Ole Miss
P, Drew Pomeranz, Ole Miss
P, Kyle Gibson, Ole Miss
MVP: Drew Pomeranz, Ole Miss
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal