OXFORD — Trailing Florida State 4-1 Sunday afternoon in the third inning of an elimination game, their season on the brink, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles needed some relief — and, man oh man, did they get it.
Then, trailing Ole Miss 4-0 in the first inning and facing elimination again, the Golden Eagles needed still more relief. They got it — in spades — again.
The bullpen delivered for the Golden Eagles in a 7-4 victory over Florida State and then a 10-7 victory over Ole Miss. Thus, the Golden Eagles and Rebels will play again Monday at noon with the Oxford Regional Championship and an NCAA Super Regional berth at stake.
For one Mississippi team, the road to Omaha will reach a dead end Monday.
Last weekend, in the Conference USA Tournament, the bullpen failed Southern Miss. Otherwise, they would have hosted a regional this weekend instead of playing on the road. But first Ryan Och and then true freshman Tanner Hall provided two of the best long relief performances you will ever see Sunday. This is no exaggeration.
Och, a hard-throwing sophomore lefty, struck out 11 Florida State Seminoles in 4.2 innings of one-hit, shutout relief to get the win and move to 8-0 on the season. As his record and a 1.47 earned run average will attest, this was nothing new.
But then came Hall, seemingly out of nowhere, when the Eagles needed him most. Hall pitched five innings of one-hit, shutout baseball, striking out five Rebels to pick up a five-inning save. You just don’t see many of those.
So, if you’re keeping score, Och and Hall pitched a combined 9.2 innings of scoreless baseball, striking out 16 batters. Throw in fireballing right-hander Hurston Waldrep, who closed out the FSU game, the Eagles got 11.1 innings of shutout relief from pitchers who fanned 18 batters.That’s impeccable relief work.
And that was the story of the day, even when Southern Miss batters pounded out 12 hits against Florida State and then 13 against Ole Miss.
Said Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, “Man, they were on fire offensively, especially early. We ran into a buzzsaw. Give them credit. It was a long day for them and they played incredibly.”
The Southern Miss pitching plan against Ole Miss was to throw several guys, an inning or two at a time. Hall changed that plan when he took over to start the fifth. Understand, Ole Miss had already roughed up three previous pitchers for seven runs on six hits. Hall not only stopped the bleeding, he stitched the wound. He did it mostly with a two-seam fastball that moved all over the place.
Southern Miss centerfielder Reed Trimble had a great view from behind. “It’s fun to watch 90 and 91 mile per hour fastballs that are moving a foot,” Trimble said.
Hall’s performance had more value than numbers. Said Berry, “What he did was keep us from having to use a lot of fresh arms in our bullpen.”
That might prove critical.
What Hall also did was keep the huge Ole Miss crowd from ever getting into the game the way it had the night before against Florida State. You can’t put a value on that.
Neither Bianco or Berry wanted to discuss their pitching plans for Monday night. I’m guessing that Ben Ethridge, normally the Golden Eagles’ No. 3 starter, figures prominently in Berry’s plan. He threw 40 pitches in a Friday loss to Florida State. Two days rest after 40 pitches should be plenty.
Cody Adcock (0-0, 5.12 ERA), a freshman right-hander, would appear the most likely starter for Ole Miss. He pitched well against Arkansas at the SEC Tournament last week.
But here’s the deal: Win, you advance. Lose, the season’s over. It’s all hands on deck.
The momentum would appear to be with Southern Miss, which has scored 38 runs in three straight victories. The home field advantage, of course, goes to the Rebels.
Said Ole Miss catcher Hayden Dunhurst: “We’ll get it going and we’ll win tomorrow. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.”