Behind the first shutout in the program's postseason history from junior right-hander Tyler Davis, Washington defeated Georgia Tech by a score of 8-0 in the opening game of the NCAA Oxford Regional. With the win, the Huskies move into the winner's bracket, where they will play the winner of Ole Miss-Jacksonville State at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Washington took a 1-0 lead in the first and extended the lead to 5-0 with four two-out RBI in the fourth, and it was all Davis from there. The Golden Spikes award semifinalist allowed just four hits with no walks and eight strikeouts.
"He did exactly what we had hoped he would do," head coach Lindsay Meggs said. "Nobody got to see anybody out of the bullpen. It's not just that we didn't have to use anybody; no one saw our closer or our set-up guys. The first time they take the mound will be the first time they see them. That's important."
"We had a pretty good idea about what we wanted to do," Davis said. "We wanted to make sure that they put the ball in play and force them to get three hits in an inning. Not a lot of people are able to do that. As long we don't walk guys or hit guys, we're pretty confident."
Sophomore outfielder Braden Bishop was the star offensively, as he went 3-for-3 with two runs scored, two RBI and two stolen bases. He has also become a fan favorite among Ole Miss fans at the regional, throwing the ball back and forth with fans in between innings.
"Yesterday was an interesting experience with them chanting, 'Let's go Huskies," Bishop said. "I had fun with it. These people are amazing. The fans are unbelievable. It's a first-class school. We're excited to be here and play in front of those guys."
With the loss, Georgia Tech moves into the loser's bracket where it will play the loser of Ole Miss-Jacksonville State at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
"We didn't pitch too many guys today," Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall said. "I told the team this afternoon, 'We have plenty of pitchers to get through the tournament.' Now, we have to win the next game, or we're headed back to Atlanta. That's the challenge. We have to play our best baseball tomorrow morning."
Jacksonville State enters the regional riding a season-long six-game winning streak, having won the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Championship by winning six straight elimination games in the tournament after losing their tournament opener.
"We hit .331 in the tournament and that was after going 2-for-31 in the first game," Jacksonville State head coach Jim Case said. "We got shut down pretty good in the first game. We came back and swung the bats extremely well. We might have played our best baseball that week of the whole year."
"They played a good schedule and have beaten a lot of people," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. "You look at their numbers offensively, and they mirror ours. They are very similar in they have an explosive offensive and have a good mix of power and speed. They have 70-plus stolen bases and 38 home runs, which is similar to us. It's going to be a good challenge for Chris on Friday. They're not your typical No. 4 seed."
Over the seven tournament games, the Gamecocks batted .331 and held a team ERA of 2.14. Junior right-hander Zachary Fowler will get the start against Ole Miss on Friday. He has a team-high seven wins, posting a 7-7 record with a 3.58 ERA.
"He's a guy who didn't have a lot of experience before this year on the mound," said Case of Fowler. "He played junior college and was a first baseman. He has a really nice arm. He's pitched well late in the season. He's had some stretches of brilliance, so hopefully tomorrow night he throws the way he can. If he does, we'll have a chance."
"It's their ace and the guy who's pitched in that game for them," Bianco said. "To me, we have to do what we do, especially being at home and especially being in a regional. We will lean on Chris (Ellis) to give us a great opportunity to win. Offensively, it's important that we do some things early to push the envelope and try to do some things offensively to get on the board."
Fowler started two games in the conference tournament, including a championship game victory over Tennessee Tech, where he allowed two runs on five hits with a walk and six strikeouts in 7.2 innings. Junior right-hander Travis Stout, who has 15 saves and a team-best 1.17 ERA, worked six perfect innings of relief over five tournament games.
"We had some guys that threw more than what's normal last week, and we had to," Case said. "If we don't, we're not going to advance. The question is how do they come back from that. We're OK. It's not ideal. It's not how you would set it up."
The Gamecocks, ranked No. 91 in the final official RPI rankings, have played three teams from the RPI top 50, all from the SEC, with a win against Mississippi State and a pair of losses to Alabama.
"There's a big difference in playing a team on a Tuesday night and playing a team in the first game of a regional," Case said. "We played that game for a reason, and then we played Alabama the next and played Alabama the next week. We wanted to do that in case we advanced to this tournament so that we would have experience against some very good teams."
But about that tournament JSU just won, writes Joe Medley from The Anniston Star
Washington makes its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2004, when Tim Lincecum was a freshman and the Huskies made the same trip to Oxford. It was also the first time Ole Miss hosted an NCAA regional.
The Huskies (39-15), picked to finish 10th out of 11 teams in the Pac-12, finished in second-place with a 21-9 conference record. With their record and conference standing, as well as a No. 18 RPI, they were one of five candidates for the final two hosting spots, but ended up on the road as a No. 2 seed.
"We were not picked in the beginning to do well in our league," UW head coach Lindsay Meggs said. "We have had to prove it and prove it again everywhere we have been, and this is no different. Based on some of the things people said about us in the beginning, I'm not so sure people really expect us to do really well in the postseason, and that is one of the reasons we weren't given a regional. That's all the more reason to keep that chip on our shoulder and try to shock the world. That's been our mindset from the beginning."
Junior right-hander Tyler Davis, the Huskies' regular Saturday starter and a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award, gets the ball for Friday's regional opener against No. 3 seed Georgia Tech. He finished the regular season 10-2 with a 1.75 ERA.
"We feel like on the road in a different environment for us, it's important for us to get off on the right foot, and he gives us the best chance to throw strikes early and keep us in the game, and not use our bullpen on the first day as much as we might have to otherwise. (He) gives us the best chance to have some rested arms for the rest of the weekend," Meggs said.
Washington was ranked in the top 10 for much of the season, but lost each of its last two series, on the road at national No. 1 seed Oregon State and at home against UCLA. Meggs sees the postseason as a fresh start for his team, which has been ranked as high as a school-record fifth in Baseball America's poll this season.
"We're starting over," Meggs said. "Everybody is starting over. For some guys, it's good. For some guys, it's bad. For us, we have talked about all year long it's a 56-game season to prepare for this. Every weekend, you're auditioning and working on the things you want to be ready to do in the postseason, so it was almost a sense of relief to get it over with and get here and we expect to play our best baseball from here on out."
Huskies enjoying experience, Southern hospitality of 1st NCAA tournament in 10 years, writes Gregg Bell, UW Athletics Director of Writing
Picked to finish sixth in the SEC Western Division prior to the start of the season, Ole Miss has played with a chip on its shoulder, and it has paid off with a division title and selection as a regional host for the first time since 2009.
"Everybody coming into this year, we knew we weren't projected as high as people said we could be," senior catcher Will Allen said. "We played with a chip on our shoulder the whole season, and that's had some success. It's a good group of guys and the way we mesh and play together. We have been pretty consistent all year."
Compared to previous years, the players notice a better approach and energy with this year's team.
"Last year, it was pretty tight," said junior right-hander Chris Ellis, who will get the start Friday. "A couple of days before the regional, you knew how it was. This year, it's been a lot better and it's a lot nicer and easier on us to play at home."
Ellis credited the leadership of senior co-captains Will Allen and Austin Anderson for the change, as the Rebels look to advance out of a regional for the first time since 2009. Allen said it's simply letting everybody do their own thing.
"The group of older guys that came back, the juniors and seniors that have been here, wanted to make sure everyone had their own thing," Allen said. "If you're relaxed, go out there and play relaxed. If you're one of those guys who gets pumped and intense, do that. We didn't want to force anything on anybody. Everybody has their own personality and own methods to doing everything. We're letting them do that.
"We wanted everyone to feel comfortable playing with everybody, and they have done a great job. You see Chris Ellis go out there, and he's a very relaxed, chill kind of person, but when he's out there, he's going about his business and he gets the job done."
With no classes and no midweek games, it's been a balancing act for coaches and players to prepare for the regional, from the bracket reveal on Monday, through the week of practice, to the regional opener on Friday.
"During the season, we get off-days and we're playing every other day, so we're not used to coming out here and practicing every day," Allen said. "Our coaching staff has done a great job helping us get the method behind everything. We're not out here for two-three hours every day. Sometimes, we just hit in the cage to stay sharp.
"Everybody's fired up and ready to go. In years past, we have been a little worn down and tired. Everybody is ready to go and excited for the opportunity."
Mike Smith has won everywhere he has been. The new Ole Miss softball head coach has compiled a career record of 748-224 (.770 winning percentage) in 16 years as a head coach at the NAIA and Division I level. He also has an NAIA Championship to his credit. Despite all that success, his focus remains on the process of building a program.
"The Ole Miss program will be similar to what I was trying to build at McNeese State," Smith said. "I'm going to do the best I can to mold these kids into quality individuals as well as quality softball players, and become ambassadors for the game and for the university and try to win an SEC Championship. We're going to focus on the process. We're not going to focus on the outcome. We're going to focus on creating a great culture and take it one step at time and doing the little things to be successful.
"It's about getting better every day. I try to preach one percent better and give me 100 percent for that day, and let the rest take care of itself. We're going to focus on the little things and focus on the process. When we do those things, we're going to be successful."
Another part of the process is to engage Rebel Nation and grow the program's fan base as other Southeastern Conference programs have done in recent years, which centers on community involvement and outreach.
"We're going to get involved in the community, and we're going to be out and about," Smith said. "We're going to have open practices, and I'm going to invite them to come watch and see what we're about. I want us to be out there supporting our student-athletes on campus.
"We're going to be involved with the entire aspect of The University of Mississippi and Ole Miss athletics. Our softball team will be a part of Rebel Nation. With developing a fan base, wins and losses are part of that, but it's about getting people on board with your direction and what your plans are."
A program that has not advanced to the NCAA Tournament in its 18-year history, Ole Miss is coming off a 22-31 season, including a 3-21 mark in SEC play, but Smith knows the promise and potential of the program. He saw it from the opposing dugout when McNeese State played at Ole Miss during the 2012 season. He also knows it from conversations with his fellow SEC coaches.
"Ole Miss is rich in tradition, just athletics in general and the history of the university, and competes in the SEC," Smith said. "It's considered one of, if not the top conference in America. I have really good friends who are coaches in the SEC, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to coach against them. I respect them so much, and they have been mentors to me. Now, I'm going to be in the opposing dugout and coaches' box and coach against those people who I respect tremendously."
Among them are Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly, who has followed a similar career path to Smith, from an NAIA Championship at Pacific Lutheran, to continued success at Chattanooga, to six Women's College World Series appearances and two national runner-up finishes at his most recent stop with the Lady Vols.
Smith turned California Baptist into a softball powerhouse, having led the Lancers to eight consecutive NAIA World Series appearances and an NAIA national championship in 2009.
From there, he left his San Diego roots for McNeese State in Lake Charles, Louisiana, to begin building his Division I coaching career, as he guided the Cowgirls to back-to-back Southland Conference regular season championships.
"I took a leap of faith and left a pretty good job in California to come to McNeese State and try to build a program and have success there and see what happens," Smith said. "I wanted to give myself an opportunity to do that.
"Every step of the way, at the different jobs and the different responsibilities I have had, and the different people I have made contact with, and what my players have taught me over 16 years of coaching has prepared me and molded me for the opportunity to coach at Ole Miss and build this program into an SEC and national contender."
Chris Ellis, one of 21 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award honoring the nation's top player, will get the start for Friday's NCAA regional opener against Jacksonville State, head coach Mike Bianco said Tuesday.
Despite suffering his first loss of the season against Arkansas at the SEC Tournament, Ellis has turned in a quality start in each of his last seven outings. Ellis has formed a strong 1-2 punch on the mound with Christian Trent, as they have combined for a 17-1 record through the regular season and SEC Tournament.
Ellis ranks eighth in the SEC in ERA (2.17), while Trent ranks 13th (2.44). Trent also ranks 10th in strikeouts (67) and third in fewest walks allowed (16).
Trent was scratched from an SEC Tournament start against Vanderbilt last Thursday due to arm stiffness but is healthy and scheduled to pitch in the regional this weekend.
"He was fine," head coach Mike Bianco said. "We didn't want to make a big deal of it. On short rest, we didn't want to push him and get him to a point where maybe he wasn't at his best this week. We wanted him to throw, but we weren't willing to push it at that point. When we got to Friday before the Arkansas game, he did his throwing and felt great. He would have started that Saturday and I would have put him on normal rest for this week. He threw a bullpen, felt great and is ready to go."
"I'm good," Trent said. "It was a little bit of fatigue but I threw a pen on Saturday and everything is great. There are no worries there. I'm ready to throw. There was no arm pain, just fatigue and after talking to coach (Bianco), obviously regional play is most important."
In Trent's place, Jeremy Massie got the spot start against Vanderbilt, his eighth start of the season, and worked 4.1 innings with one run on four hits with three walks and three strikeouts, as the Rebels went on to defeat the Commodores by a score of 7-2. Massie holds a 2.34 ERA over 53.1 innings this season, having split time as a starter and in the bullpen.
"It gives you flexibility, but you don't know how you're going to use him," Bianco said. "He's certainly one of our main guys out of the bullpen. Can he start? Sure. A lot of it will depend on the weekend and where you go to how you use him."
Before the SEC Tournament, Bianco talked about the team's pitching depth, particularly in the bullpen. That depth played itself out over the three games in Hoover, Alabama with five different relievers seeing action, including two appearances by Josh Laxer. Including Massie, seven different relievers have appeared in at least 15 games, and they hold a combined 2.32 ERA over 209.1 innings.
"The good thing about the SEC Tournament was we got just about everybody in, just short of a couple of guys that we were saving for the next day in (Evan) Anderson and (Matt) Denny, but all the other relievers got in, and everyone pitched well," Bianco said. "Over the past few weeks with no midweek games, it's been tough with guys like (Josh) Laxer and (Wyatt) Short, who have seemed to not pitch as much. Laxer got in twice, and although it was a little tougher for Short in his outing, at least he got out there.
"You want to win the tournament, but one of the biggest things is how it prepares you for this tournament. I was happy with how we used the pitching and how much everyone got in."
For the sixth time in program history, Ole Miss was selected to host an NCAA Baseball Regional. The Rebels (41-18) open regional play Friday with No. 4 seed Jacksonville State (36-25), with No. 2 seed Washington (39-15-1) and No. 3 seed Georgia Tech (36-25) in the other matchup.
The Gamecocks have a top-100 RPI with a 1-2 record against SEC teams this season (win over Mississippi State, two losses to Alabama). The Huskies finished second in the Pac-12 conference and narrowly missed a regional hosting spot, while the Yellow Jackets finished ninth in the ACC and won the tournament championship this past week.
The Oxford Regional is paired with the Lafayette Regional, hosted by No. 6 national seed Louisiana-Lafayette (53-7), as well as No. 2 seed Mississippi State (37-22), No. 3 seed San Diego State (42-19) and No. 4 seed Jackson State (31-23).
Head coach Mike Bianco
Sophomore left-hander Christian Trent
Junior outfielder Auston Bousfield
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