Ole Miss and Texas Tech are set to play in an afternoon match that will determine the first team eliminated from the College World Series in Omaha. The Rebels and Raiders face elimination after Ole Miss lost their first game to top seeded Virginia and Texas Tech lost to their cross-state rival TCU Horned Frogs.
Both first round games were low scoring nail-biters. The Virginia Cavaliers squeaked by Ole Miss in the ninth as team leader Mike Papi smacked a full-count, two out pitch into the right center-gap, bringing in a man from second base to walk-off a 2-1 win. The game was dominated by pitching as Virginia starter Nathan Kirby only gave up one run in seven innings and reliever and Artie Lewicki finished with two scoreless innings in relief. The Rebels only run came in the eighth after two walks and a hit allowed by Kirby.
Ole Miss starting pitcher Chris Ellis was almost as strong as he only allowed one run in six innings of work. But ultimately it came down to Mike Papi, the 38th pick of this year’s Major League Baseball draft by the Cleveland Indians, who had the critical hit in only the second walk-off finish to a College World Series game since 2011, when South Carolina beat Virginia 3-2.
Despite the low score, the TCU and Texas Tech game provided plenty of late-inning fireworks. Texas Tech surrendered one run in the first inning off a sac fly and then both teams held each other scoreless for next six innings.
The eighth proved to be the difference as Texas Tech opened the inning by scoring two runs to take a 2-1 lead. The Horned Frogs’ Big 12 pitcher of year Preston Morrison kept the lead until closer Riley Farrell gave up two runs to give the Raiders the lead. In the bottom of the inning Texas Tech ace closer Jonny Drodz surrendered two runs as two singles and a triple put the Horned Frogs on top 3-2. Texas Tech threatened in the top of the ninth with two base-runners but a ground out send the Raiders into the CWS losers bracket.
This is Texas Tech’s first College World Series appearance, and they are now facing their first elimination game. The Rebels will send lefty Christian Trent to the mound, a leader on the talented Ole Miss staff who went a perfect 6-0 against SEC teams this year. Texas Tech will counter with Freshman Ryan Mosley, a right-handed pitcher who has only had four starts this year in 21 appearances. Mosley was given the starting nod over the Raider’s unbeaten lefty fireballer Dylan Dusek. The decision could backfire on the Raiders as the Rebels started five left-handed batters against Virginia.
Over in the winners bracket, TCU and Virginia will battle each other in the nightcap. The Horned Frogs will send left-handed pitcher Brandon Finnegan, a first round pick by the Kansas City Royals, who finished the year with a 2.12 ERA. Virginia will counter with lefty Brandon Widdell, who already has two wins in post-tournament play against Arkansas and Maryland.
Virginia is considered the team to beat in the CWS and has played in three of the last six tournaments. Teams facing them already have to contend with their first-rate defense and pitching, but will also have to stop a fierce hitting attack to avoid elimination from the College World Series. In Omaha’s cavernous TD Ameritrade Park, Virginia is the only team to hit a ball to the warning track.
Commentary by Andrew Elfenbein