OMAHA, Neb. — With the winning run on second base and a base open in the ninth inning, Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco had a difficult decision to make Sunday night at TD Ameritrade Park.
Bianco had to choose between pitching to Virginia’s biggest offensive weapon, Mike Papi, or pitching around Papi to face Joe McCarthy, who had already burned the Rebels in a similar situation earlier in the game.
Bianco incorrectly chose to pitch to Papi. The junior first baseman crushed a 3-2 sinker to the right-centerfield warning track. Papi’s game-winning RBI double gave Virginia a 2-1 victory in its opening game of the 2014 College World Series.
The truth, though, is there might not be a correct choice in that situation.
“It’s not like you feel a little uncomfortable just pitching around [Papi] and walking him to get to McCarthy,” Bianco said. “We did that last time. And McCarthy was able to get a base hit. And you’ve still got Fisher behind that. So it’s three guys…not the place that you want to be with the winning run at second base.”
The inning started with a leadoff walk to the No. 9 hitter, Nate Irving, who entered with a .236 batting average. After a sacrifice bunt, Ole Miss closer Aaron Greenwood was able to get a strikeout, but couldn’t finish Papi off after getting a 2-2 count.
Irving started the Cavaliers’ other run-scoring inning as well. In the fifth inning, he singled to left field. With two outs and Irving on second base, Ole Miss starter Chris Ellis fell behind Papi 2-0 and the coaching staff made the decision to just go ahead and pitch around him.
But McCarthy made them pay by lining a pitch back up the middle to put Virgina (50-14) ahead 1-0. Irving showed off his catcher’s wheels, beating the throw home when centerfielder Auston Bousfield had trouble getting the ball out of his glove cleanly.
That was nearly the only offense in the game. Virginia starter Nathan Kirby allowed only one hit in seven innings while his counterpart, Ellis, battled out of jams, keeping the Cavaliers from getting a clutch knock.
“We kept getting opportunities and just couldn’t get that big hit to tack on some more runs,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said. “But I guess we saved it for the dramatic there at the ninth.”
Kirby did run into trouble in the eighth inning, walking the first two batters, which spelled the end of his night. Artie Lewicki came on and got three straight outs, but a sacrifice bunt and an RBI groundout from Holt Perdzock evened the score, 1-1.
Lewicki (7-1) picked up the win pitching two scoreless frames without allowing a baserunner while Greenwood fell to 3-2 on the season for Ole Miss.
Virginia will play TCU at 7 p.m. CST on Tuesday while Ole Miss faces Texas Tech in an elimination game at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
Be sure to check out our other coverage from Virginia’s walk-off victory: