OXFORD – Top-seeded Ole Miss pushed Monmouth around in the sandbox early but then settled down and relied on its pitching to win its 10th consecutive NCAA tournament regional home game, 8-1, before a Swayze Field crowd of 8,511 Friday night.
Logan Power had an RBI double, and Zach Miller an RBI triple as the 12th-ranked Rebels pushed across three runs in the first against Monmouth right-hander Brett Brach.
Ole Miss (41-17) scored three times in the eighth to open things up.
While the strategy of holding its No. 1 pitcher appears to have backfired against No. 2 seed Missouri – which lost the Oxford Regional opener 11-5 to 3 seed Western Kentucky – the strategy of playing your ace in the opener worked well for the Rebels.
Sophomore left-hander Drew Pomeranz (7-4) scattered five hits, struck out 10 and walked two in his longest outing since a complete-game win at Florida on April 17.
The Hawks’ run was charged to Pomeranz in the ninth inning – long after the outcome seemed to be decided.
Ole Miss and Western Kentucky, co-champions in the SEC and the Sun Belt respectively, meet in the winner’s bracket at 5 p.m. today. Junior right-hander Phillip Irwin (7-3, 3.82) will pitch for Ole Miss.
“Drew was as sharp as I’ve seen him all year,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “He was dominant. He kept them at bay with a mix of fastballs, curves and a handful of change-ups. He just took control.”
The Rebels started like a buzz saw but were less ferocious in the middle innings. Brach, who had a 4.61 earned run average in 681/3 innings coming in, hit a groove and held the hosts scoreless for four consecutive innings. He retired 12 of 13 at one point, five of them by strikeout.
Brach, however, eventually ran out of gas, while Pomeranz motored along until he walked Paul Bottigliero to open the ninth.
“In a lot of my other starts I would start to lose focus around the fifth or sixth inning,” Pomeranz said. “I just told myself to stay focused and keep pounding the zone, and that helped me stay in the game longer.”
McKean – a key reliever who did not make the SEC tournament trip for undisclosed reasons – gave up two hits, no runs and struck out two.
“Pomeranz pitched with a lot of energy,” Monmouth coach Dean Ehehalt said. “He gave up that leadoff single in the first but got right back up with the double play and kind of dictated the sequence from there. He pitched to both sides of the plate and kept you honest in that regard.”
The Rebels opened the game with back-to-back doubles from Jordan Henry and Power, the latter a line shot that reached the left field corner to score Henry easily.
Kyle Henson drove in Power with a sacrifice fly, and Matt Smith scored on Miller’s triple to the right field corner.
Ole Miss scored again in the second when Evan Button doubled with one out and came home on Henry’s single up the middle.
Henry was on base five times in five at-bats with two singles, a double and two walks.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal