Friday, June 5, 2009

Oxford Super Regional... Third time a charm?

When the first pitch in the Oxford Super Regional is thrown this afternoon around 1:10 or so, it will mark the Rebels 4th Super Regional in 5 years, which is a run of success that few teams across the country can point to. Unfortunately, the other 3 have ended poorly for the Rebels. Perennial powers Texas, Miami, and Arizona State have all dispatched the Rebels with different levels of ease over the past few years, causing different levels of heartbreak for the Rebel Nation.

This year looks to be a different story. Instead of facing one of college baseball’s storied franchises, the Rebels will square off against Virginia. The Cavaliers are a very good team, having the 2nd best winning percentage in the country as well as the 3rd best ERA. Their pitching staff gave up exactly 2 runs in last weekend’s Irvine Regional, which is the lowest run total any team has surrendered since the format switched in 1999. The Cavs also bat at a solid .331 clip and steal a lot of bases – 104 on the season.

All that said, I like this matchup for the Rebels. The similarities between the teams as well as the schools (posts like this are why blogs were created) are eerie. And while the Cavs have an edge in every statistical category, other than ERA, none really jumps out at you. The Cavaliers pose a better matchup than a team that wants to come in and play 10-9 games all weekend.

Virginia’s projected starting rotation looks like this:
Freshman LH Danny Hultzen (8-1, 2.01)
Sophomore RH Robert Morey (3-0, 2.91)
Senior RH Andrew Carraway (7-1, 4.30)

Phillip Irwin gets the nod this afternoon, but after that Bianco says the rotation is not set, on which I call Shenanigans. Anyone who honestly believes that Drew Pomeranz is not going to take the mound late Saturday morning – a game that a win would either propel the Rebels to Omaha or stave off the end of the season – is just not paying attention. Pom’s performance Monday night was the greatest single pitching performance in Ole Miss history… no way he’s not out there Saturday with the season on the line. As expected, Scott Bittle is not pitching this weekend.

This is not the most talented team Bianco has taken to a Super Regional - not even close. But this is the scrappiest, and the most fun group of guys he’s been around. Their camaraderie has been a key component of their success this year and they’ll need to be extra-loose this weekend as they face a very talented UVA team. The Cavs are streaking now, winners of 8 straight games.

For the first time in a Super Regional, there is no reason to be intimidated by the team name on the front of the jersey. The Cavaliers are playing in their first Super Regional in school history. And despite their win streak, they’re still the team that finished 6th in the ACC. That’s not to undermine what the ‘Hoos have accomplished this year, but to emphasize the fact that this UVA team can be beat. The time has come for the Rebels to make it back to Omaha. And this might just be the team to do it.

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