By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – As No. 11-ranked Ole Miss stands at the brink of the College World Series yet again, Rebels coach Mike Bianco hopes lessons learned from recent experiences will help his team move from NO-maha to GO-maha.
Lesson No. 1 is play your best, with emphasis on “your.”
The Rebels meet No. 5 Virginia at 1 p.m. today in Game 1 of the best-of-three NCAA Oxford Super Regional at Swayze Field.
Ole Miss is playing in a super regional for the fourth time in five years, the third time at home. The program is looking for its first CWS berth since 1972.
“It really comes down to who plays the best, who pitches and catches, who hits. That’s who wins,” said Bianco, who participated in the CWS as a player and later as an assistant coach at LSU.
Game 2 is Saturday at 11 a.m., and Game 3, if necessary, will be Sunday at 2 p.m.
No. 5 Virginia has won eight straight games, including the ACC tournament championship and a three-game sweep at the UC-Irvine regional last weekend in which the Cavaliers allowed only two runs, an NCAA tournament record for the current format.
The Virginia pitching staff leads the ACC and ranks second in the nation with a 3.19 earned run average. Today’s starter, freshman left-hander Danny Hultzen, has allowed more than one earned run in just one of his last six starts.
While the Cavaliers (46-12-1) have competed in the NCAA tournament for six straight seasons, this is their first foray into the super regionals.
“It’s baseball. Whether you want to call it a super regional or a weekend series it’s the same,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “I don’t think our players feel pressure. They’re a tough, confident group and have competed all year.”
Virginia last lost in a 9-8 decision at Virginia Tech on May 15 in the final series of the regular season.
Pitcher Andrew Carraway, a right-hander who will start Game 2, said the Cavaliers were surprised to be shipped to California for the regional but called their success in Irvine “a big confidence boost.”
With that, Carraway describes the Cavaliers as relaxed and confident.
“There are a lot of ways to get to Omaha. No matter the route you take you eventually come up against some tough teams,” he said.
The Rebels (43-18) have competed too. With another chance to reach Omaha, Bianco admits a temptation to over-manage, to do things differently when the stakes are higher.
You gotta believe
“There’s always that temptation for everybody in every game, to do more. But the right approach is believing in who you are, believing in what you’ve done to this point.”
That’s the game plan he will stress to his players, those on the field who will try to execute the at-bats against Virginia’s talented pitchers to get Ole Miss into Omaha.
Bianco says he didn’t think his team played very well in its last super regional at Arizona State in 2007. He was more pleased with the Rebels’ performance against Texas in 2005 and against Miami in 2006, though the results were no different.
There will be no bigger swings, no less discipline or pressing at the plate this weekend, says outfielder Jordan Henry.
“It’s a weekend series for us, and obviously it’s a big one. We’re going to go out and play like we’ve played all year, just have that same type of mentality, and go at it. We just have to play good baseball.”