By Gregg Bell
UW Athletics Director of Writing
OXFORD, Miss. Tyler Davis began his Saturday at the ballpark by singing along in mock baritone as Seattle’s Macklemore rapped “Can’t Hold Us” over the Oxford-University Stadium’s public-address system.
Man, was he right on about that.
He ended his day with a fist pump -- and a place in UW baseball history.
In between, nothing could hold back the Huskies’ Red (Headed) Menace in his debut on his sport’s grandest stage. Using 80-percent straight fastballs that barely got above 85 miles per hour as usual -- Davis threw the first shutout in UW’s 36-game NCAA tournament history. The four-hitter plus timely two-out hitting led Washington to an 8-0 rout of Georgia Tech to begin the rain-delayed Oxford regional.
With this crisp, like-we’ve-been-here-before performance, the Huskies (40-15-1) advanced to Sunday’s “1-0 bracket” game Sunday at 1 p.m. Pacific time against host Mississippi (42-18). Ole Miss beat Jacksonville State 12-2 later Saturday in front of a raucous, packed house.
Meggs said Jeff Brigham (7-3, 2.93 ERA) will start Sunday, amid what promises to be a wild scene at rockin' Swayze "Crazy" Field.
The winner of UW-Ole Miss goes to Monday’s regional final at noon Seattle time. The loser must come back to play again Sunday at 5 p.m. Pacific time in this double-elimination regional.
A day after saying UW's drawn-out rainout made no difference to him, that he’s ready to pitch anywhere, anytime, Davis was divine. The slight-statured ace buzzed through the Yellow Jackets with eight strikeouts, the second-most of the right-hander’s career.
Leadoff man Braden Bishop reaching base five times in five plate appearances, three hits from Branden Berry and Robert Pehl matching Bishop with two RBI punctuated UW’s return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004 with an emphatic “Woof!”
“That was worth waiting for, huh?” Lindsay Meggs, the Pac-12’s coach of the year, deadpanned on his way to his team’s happy bus outside this beautiful ballpark, one that has embraced the Huskies as its favorite team here not named Ole Miss.Davis’ 103rd and final pitch Saturday was what about 80 others were: a straight fastball that seems hittable until you try to do hit it. He pumped his right fist after his final strikeout ended the sixth complete game in UW’s NCAA tournament history, and made him the fourth Husky pitcher with at least 11 wins in a season.
It looked as if he was making a Tuesday start in February against UC Davis back at Husky Ballpark even though about 9,000 were on their way to packing this rocking stadium for Ole Miss’ game that followed.
“We’re not worried about this environment,” Davis (11-2, ERA now down to 1.60) said, mentioning how close the Huskies came to winning their series at “really, really hostile” No. 1 Oregon State two weeks ago, how UW played last year at LSU.
His mastery plus UW’s four-run fourth inning on stunning, two-out hits by No. 9 hitter Erik Forgione, Bishop and Andrew Ely on three consecutive pitches was the formula for the Huskies winning at fun Swayze Field. These Huskies became the fifth UW team to win 40 games in a season.
And they knew there's far more to play for.
“I have to credit our coaches on how they’ve prepared us this season,” Bishop said. “Every practice, every game it was stressed that it was preparing us for this, the NCAA tournament and the College World Series.
“That intensity carried over to today.”
Davis was starting the regional opener because Meggs wanted to preserve his bullpen for a potentially long weekend. He did exactly that. He continually got ahead of the Atlantic Coast Conference-tournament champions with first- and even second-pitch strikes. His eight K’s were the second-most of his career. And by the end he was still sprinting on and off the field in 85-degree heat and high humidity as if he was late for the team’s bus.
He laughed when he was asked how many pitches he threw at aggressive, flailing Georgia Tech that weren’t those straight, precise and lethally efficient fastballs. He’s known for a killer changeup, but in a testament to how good he was the All-Pac-12 starter, Louisville Slugger second-team All-American and finalist for the Golden Spikes and Howser awards as national player of the year said he threw “about 15, 20” changeups Saturday.
“What helped me was that they were swinging at balls early in the count and they were swinging often,” Davis said of Atlantic Coast Conference-tournament champion Georgia Tech, which is in its seventh consecutive NCAA tournament.
The Jackets had won six of their previous seven games including while scoring nine runs last weekend to beat Maryland in the ACC final -- until running up against Washington’s rugged redhead.
“I was just throwing it over the plate and using my defense often, as always is great for us,” the newest pride of Mountain View, Calif., said.
“That was the whole scouting report about them before. Just challenge them and make them prove they are going to hit. That’s how we are with every single team we play. You have to get a lot of hits against us to beat us, otherwise we are going to have success against you.”
Davis was more of the 2014 Davis. Actually, he was even better. Coming in he had 40 strikeouts in 19 games, 70 2-3 innings, an average of .56 per inning.
He almost doubled that in the biggest start of his life. His straight, plus-80-mph fastballs and few, 76-mph changeups left the batters for Tech (36-26) off-balance -- when they weren’t baffled.
Davis has now allowed two or fewer runs in 12 of 15 starts.
“That’s been his M.O. all year long,” Meggs said. “No fear.”
Davis’ fearless dealing and the two-out hitting was the same formula that got Washington, 21-9 and second in the Pac-12 this season, ranked as high as fifth in the country, the highest in program history, a couple weeks ago.
With four more Saturday, the Huskies have 116 two-out RBI. That is 40.1 percent of all Huskies' RBI this season.
Berry got UW’s decisive rally going in the fourth inning with a one-out double. The first of his three hits put Huskies at first and third. With first base open, and UW leading 1-0 on Austin Rei’s RBI single that scored Bishop in the first, Georgia Tech starter Josh Heddinger intentionally walked No.-7 hitter Pehl to load the bases. With two outs, Forgione delivered with a sharp single to right to score Trevor Mitsui.
On the next pitch, Bishop nailed a two-run single to make it 4-0. The pitch after that, Andrew Ely nearly ripped Tech third baseman Brandon Gold’s glove off his hand with a smash for an RBI infield single.
It was 5-0 four more runs than the dominant Davis would need.
Bishop a fan favorite here after his father Randy joined the fans behind right field for some revelry during Friday’s long delay that became a rainout -- was an exquisite leadoff man. He reached base five times in five at-bats.
“I have to give that to my dad,” Bishop said, laughing over his big day.
“Our game plan with runners in scoring position was to sit off speed,” Bishop said of Heddinger on his two-run single. “He left a slider up and I jumped on it.”
Timely hits are what got UW 19 wins in 21 games and into the nation’s top five over the season’s first three months. They are what are going to get the Huskies out of this regional to next week’s best-of-three super regional, too, if it happens.
Will Davis be able to pitch again here Monday if needed? It’s not out of the question. He doesn’t throw overly hard and has smooth mechanics. And he insists on throwing every day in the season, whether coaches want him to or not.
Can he come back on one day’s rest, if required?
“Probably,” Davis said. “I mean, I’m going to do everything I can possibly do to make sure I am ready to pitch as soon as possible.”
His historic complete game went according to Meggs’ plan.
“I felt good about to having to run out our closer (Troy Rallings) or (set-up man) Trevor Dunlap out there, so no one has seen them,” Meggs said.
They all saw Davis and the Huskies hitters. They continued what has been a fun-loving, make-yourself-at-home week here down South for UW.
“Oh, it’s been an unbelievable experience,” Bishop said.
“Hopefully it continues.”
#2 Washington 8, #3 Georgia Tech 0
GT 000 000 000 - 0 4 0
WASH 100 400 21x - 1 11 0
Tyler Davis and Austin Rei. Josh Heddinger, Zac Ryan (6), Ben Schniederjans (8) and Arden Pabst. W Davis (11-2). L Heddinger (4-5). Sv none. HR none. 3B none. 2B UW, Branden Berry (9), Robert Pehl (13). LOB: GT 4, UW 9. Time 2:32. Attendance 6,734.