OMAHA, Neb. — Mike Bianco thought it would be easier to get to college baseball’s showcase event.
After all, Bianco had a front-row seat as an assistant coach as LSU coach Skip Bertman guided the Tigers to the College World Series on a regular basis.
It’s not like Bianco and the Rebels haven’t had the talent to get to Omaha. But the veteran coach experienced his share of disappointment, as Ole Miss played host to NCAA tournament Super Regionals three times and lost in the nine years prior to this year’s event.
This year, Ole Miss only had to go on the road to beat the No. 1 and the No. 6 national seed on its home field to reach its destination. Thanks to back-to-back wins against Louisiana-Lafayette, Ole Miss is set to play its first game in the College World Series in 42 years. At 7 tonight (ESPN2), Ole Miss (46-19) will take on No. 3 national seed Virginia (49-14) at TD Ameritrade Park.
Big 12 Conference rivals TCU and Texas Tech will play at 2 p.m. today (ESPN2) in the other game on this side of the bracket. The winners of today’s games will play Tuesday evening. The losers will meet Tuesday afternoon in an elimination game.
“Like the other coaches said, we’re excited and honored to be here,” said Bianco, who is one of two coaches in Omaha this year (Virginia’s Brian O’Connor is the other) who has played in the College World Series. “Congratulations to all the other coaches, those in the room with me and the four in the other bracket. As Brian said, we were just joking outside before we walked in here, and I’m sure our beat writers have heard me say this many times, the road to Omaha isn’t a straight one. It’s very windy and bumpy and nobody knows more than we do. This is our fifth super regional and we finally punched our ticket here. We’re excited to be here. I joked about that my days as an assistant at LSU in the 90s how easy Skip Berman made it look to get here and all those great LSU teams. When I got to Ole Miss, I thought I had the blueprint. Once you got to Omaha this is what you do. Unfortunately, it took 14 years, and heck they don’t even play at the same stadium. The blueprint isn’t as good as it once was, but again were honored and excited to be here and can’t wait for it to get started.”
Ole Miss punched its ticket to Omaha with a 10-4 victory against ULL in Game 3 of the best-of-three Super Regional in Lafayette, Louisiana. The victory helped Ole Miss secure its fifth appearance in the College World Series, and first since 1972.
Right-hander Chris Ellis (10-2, 2.45 ERA) is scheduled to start for Ole Miss. The junior went 2 1/3 innings and gave up five runs (four earned) and three walks in a 9-5 loss to ULL on June 7.
Left-hander Nathan Kirby (9-2, 1.74 ERA) is scheduled to start for Virginia, which had three players drafted among the first 38 picks of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft. Pitcher Nick Howard went in the first round (19th round) to the Cincinnati Reds, while outfielders Derek Fisher and Mike Papi went with back-to-back picks to Houston and Cleveland in the supplemental first round.
Kirby, a sophomore, was a first-team All-American this season.
Virginia is back in the College World Series for the third time in program history (2009, 2011, 2014). It joins Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and UCLA as the only schools to appear in three College World Series since 2009.
Today’s game will be important because only two teams (Oregon State in 2006 and South Carolina in 2010) have won a national title after losing their first game since the NCAA added the best-of-three CWS Finals in 2003. The past three national champions — UCLA last year, Arizona in 2012 and South Carolina in 2011 — have all gone 5-0 in the CWS.
To accomplish that goal, Ole Miss likely will have to manufacture runs in a big ballpark, something it didn’t have to do in the first two rounds. The Rebels hit home runs in all five of their victories in the NCAA tournament Oxford Regional and Lafayette Super Regional, including two in the clinching game against ULL.
Since the College World Series moved to TD Ameritrade Park in 2011, there have been only 22 home runs hit in the CWS, including only three last year), according to dataomaha.com. Ole Miss’ three best hitters — Auston Bousfield, Austin Anderson, and Will Allen — combined for 59 doubles this season.
Of the eight teams in Omaha, two (Virginia and Texas Tech) are among the top five in the country in team fielding percentage. Four others rank as high as No. 38, with only Ole Miss (77th) and Louisville (84th) outside the top 50.