By Gregg Bell
UW Athletics Director of Writing
OXFORD, Miss. In the end, the Huskies came one hit short.
They remain way in surplus on heart.
Relievers Will Ballowe, who had to start because no one else could, was great. Alex Nesbitt, pitching for the first time in a month, was tremendous in relief of him for four innings two more than he’s ever gone before he felt pain in his shoulder and had to leave in the 10th inning.
But the Huskies stranded go-ahead runs in scoring position in the eighth and ninth innings and then the tying run at first in the 10th. That's how they lost to host Mississippi in the championship round of the NCAA tournament’s Oxford regional 3-2 in 10 innings, a wild, absolutely thrilling game in front of 9,396 at rockin’ and soaked Oxford-University Stadium.
The Huskies (41-17-1) finish with their most wins since 2003 and only the fifth time in school history UW has won at least 40 in a season. At one point the Huskies won 19 of 21 games and raised to as high as fifth in the national rankings the highest in program history.
They allowed just seven total runs in four games, wins over Georgia Tech (8-0 and 4-2) and losses to Ole Miss (2-1 and 3-2). They allowed the Rebels just five runs in 19 innings on their home field.
But after clutch, two-out hitting scored four runs Saturday in the uprising against Tech, the Huskies scored just 10 runs over their final 32 innings of this regional.
"We just needed one more darn hit," UW coach Lindsay Meggs said.
They fall one hit short of potentially advancing to their first best-of-three super regional since the NCAA went to this 64-team tournament format for baseball in 1999 though had they won they would have had to beat Ole Miss again later Monday night to win the regional.
The team its league's coaches said would finished 10th in the 11-team Pac-12 this season fell one hit short of advancing to their first best-of-three super regional since the NCAA went to this 64-team tournament format for baseball in 1999.
"I'm really proud of my team," said Meggs, Husky baseball's turnaround artist who in five seasons has transformed UW from a Pac-12 baseball afterthought to a national contender that came within a couple hits from winning its league from No. 1 Oregon State. "We've come a long way in a short amount of time. Like I told my team when we talked, it's about life lessons. ... It hurts, but we've learned to count on each other. And we came here and represented ourselves as fine young men and representatives of our great university.
"I don't think you will ever see anyone play harder."
Ole Miss (44-18) won this scintillating game on a two-out triple by regional most valuable player Sikes Orvis. That was on the first pitch he saw from UW's Trevor Dunlap. The hit eluded fill-in right fielder Kyle London off the grandstand wall down the line near the corner when London slipped on the warning track soaked by the two downpours that halted the seventh inning for nearly two hours.
That rain, a presence throughout UW’s entire, five-day stay here, was a menace to the Huskies from the start of the regional. A baffling rainout on Friday, when after the Huskies spent six hours at the park it only rained for many 45 minutes, messed with Washington’s pitching plans. Pushing the opener back to Saturday prevented ace Tyler Davis, who got his UW’s first postseason shutout with a four-hitter on 103 pitches to beat Georgia Tech 8-0, from pitching a potential if-necessary game Monday for the regional title.
Because Davis pitched on Saturday, he had only one day’s rest for Monday. As it was, he walked down to the Huskies' bullpen in the ninth inning as was poised to perhaps begin his pre-start routine for the evening's if-necessary game, had the Huskies gotten that key hit late.
"The biggest issue was the rain on the first day," Meggs said.
The rain poured down in the top of the seventh with an Ole Miss runner at second, one out and a 3-0 count on the batter. The delay was 1 hour, 52 minutes -- made longer by the fact the umpires inexplicably ordered the grounds crew to not put the tarp over the infield immediately. It poured for five more minutes before the tarp went on, making the infield look more like Seattle's Green Lake. When the sun came out, it took too long for the infield to be prepared 30 minutes. By then another downpour drenched the stadium.
That made it impossible for Huskies’ closer Troy Rallings to return. He had thrown 29 pitches while allowing three hits and one run over 1 2-3 theatrical innings that simultaneously delighted and frustrated the home fans. Rallings cooled down, warmed up in the bullpen while the crew sanded the infield that shouldn't have been drenched, then cooled down again for good when the tarp came back out for a second time with the second downpour.
Ballowe was tremendous in the emergency start for the Huskies, who don’t really have a fourth starting pitcher. They had already used their main three the previous day.
Ballowe, the sophomore left-hander who is usually a set-up reliever, allowed six hits and a solo home run by Ole Miss No. 6 hitter Colby Bortles in 4 2-3 innings. It was the longest and most timely -- outing of Ballowe’s career. He struck out one and did not walk anyone in his third start of the season and fifth as a Husky. He gave UW exactly what it needed.
“The ending wasn’t at all what we wanted,” Ballowe said, “but that was fun.
“This whole week here has been an incredible experience.”
Ballowe, from Danville, Calif., had his father and girlfriend here pitched a perfect eighth inning with two strikeouts Sunday in Washington’s taut, 2-1 loss to Ole Miss. That was hours before UW beat Georgia Tech 4-2 in an elimination game Sunday night to set up this big day.
After Ballowe, Brandon Choate walked the only batter he faced, loading the bases with two outs in the top of the fifth and the score tied at one. Rallings, who hadn’t pitched in nine days, emerged from the bullpen beyond left field with characteristic flair. He pounded his chest three times in front of the foul pole and sprinted in down the foul line as if he was trying to catch the team bus. Or a Rebel.
The ear-splitting crowd, seeing it for the first time, loved Rallings’ usual, intense show.
They didn’t love when on his first pitch, Rallings retired Austin Anderson on a ground ball to first baseman Branden Berry to end the threat and keep the game tied at 1. UW's dugout erupted as Rallings sprinted into their arms after that half inning.
UW used Rallings' momentum to take the lead in the bottom of the inning. Erik Forgione reached on a one-out throwing error, got to second base on Braden Bishop's infield single and to third on Andrew Ely's bunt single. Brian Wolfe then scored Forgione with a sacrifice fly on a liner that may have scored three runs had Ole Miss' speedy left fielder Braxton Lee not made a diving catch to his right near the foul line.
Mississippi, which won the Southeastern Conference's West division, evened the game at 2 in the sixth on a one-out double by Bortles off Rallings, on a centered, 0-2 pitch.
Wolfe walked with one out in the bottom of the eighth against Ole Miss' Scott Weathersby (2-1), who was brilliant with only two UW hits over 5 1-3 scoreless innings spread across the long delay. Meggs put speedy London in to pinch-run for Wolfe, going for the win with the go-ahead run there. Ole Miss threw over a half dozen times expecting an attempted steal of second by London that never came. With two outs Trevor Mitsui singled London to second. But Austin Rei fouled out to catcher Will Allen at the backstop screen -- two feet further back and it would have been out of play -- to end that chance.
Freshman Chris Baker got to second in the bottom of the ninth on his one-out single off Weathersby and then Forgione bunting him along. But Bishop popped out to right field to send the game to extra innings -- instead of UW into a second game, potentially with Davis coming on for a Randy Johnson-like performance on one day's rest, for the regional title later Monday night.
"Looking back on it, we were picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12. And that became our motivation all year," said Nesbitt (0-1), who was so good while getting the undeserved loss in such a pressure situation that he may come back as a junior next year with an elevated place in the pitching rotation. That rotation could lose junior starter Jeff Brigham and others.
"This year showed we can do it. We felt like winners. And we played like winners."
#1 Mississippi 3, #2 Washington 2
MISS 010 001 000 1 - 3 11 2
WASH 001 010 000 0 - 2 8 0
Sam Smith, Scott Weathersby (5) and Will Allen. Will Ballowe, Brandon Choate (5), Troy Rallings (5), Alex Nesbitt (7), Trevor Dunlap (10) and Austin Rei. W Weathersby (2-1). L Nesbitt (0-1). Sv none. HR UM, Colby Bortles (2). 3B Sikes Orvis (1). 2B UM, Braxton Lee (8), Will Allen (22), Bortles (2); UW, Austin Rei (11), Chris Baker (3). LOB: UM 9, UW 9. Time 3:39. Attendance 9,396.