OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco used some variation of the word “toughness” nine times back in February at his preseason news conference.
The Rebels had become somewhat stagnant since its last regional championship in 2009 and needed a new approach. Ole Miss hired a new strength coach, made the offseason conditioning program more intense and hoped the mental and physical tests would translate to the playing field.
Monday night in Oxford vindicated those decisions.
Hosting postseason play for the first time since that 2009 season, the Rebels (44-18) rolled through the regional, winning three straight games, including two one-run affairs against Pacific-12 runner-up and regional No. 2 seed Washington (41-17-1). Ole Miss weathered a 1 hour, 53 minute rain delay and beat the Huskies 3-2 in 10 innings to claim the regional title. Ole Miss will now play at UL-Lafayette in the super regional.
The Oxford regional averaged an attendance of 9,463 during the Rebels’ games. The 44 wins are the second-most in school history behind 48 wins in 2005.
“Our league, the Southeastern Conference, prepared us for this; we’ve been in a lot of these games,” Bianco said. “Sometimes, it doesn’t go your way, but this team is tournament-tested, and a team that believes they are always in it.”
The Rebels, picked to finish sixth in the SEC West by the league coaches, took the division title in the regular season and now try to advance to the College World Series for the first time since 1972. Bianco is the program’s all-time winningest coach but is 0-4 in super regionals, including three instances — 2005, 2006 and 2009 — when Ole Miss hosted and won the first game but dropped two straight to end those seasons.
The Rebels struggled to get much going against a patchwork Washington staff Monday, going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and 3 of 16 with runners on, but Sikes Orvis hit a two-out triple in the 10th inning to score Will Allen from first base with the go-ahead run. Allen was stopping at third until the ball skipped past Washington right fielder Brian Wolfe.
Junior right-hander Scott Weathersby pitched the final 5.1 innings, yielding just two hits and no runs. He struck out six with one walk and threw 44 of 65 pitches for strikes. Somewhat an afterthought heading into the season, Weathersby has become a multi-inning weapon. He hasn’t allowed a run in 16 innings heading into super regional play.
“That was a lot of fun, something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Weathersby said. “I don’t know if I ever thought I’d be in that situation, but I always dreamed of it.”
Weathersby entered with two on and two out in the fifth, forcing a groundout to end the inning. Then the rain and two different tarp pulls stopped play for approximately two hours. Weathersby waited out the delay with a heating pad on his arm and returned to throw 55 more pitches to finish the game.
“You don’t see a guy do that often and come back after a delay, but I knew he was the one if anyone could,” Bianco said.
Ole Miss starter Sam Smith allowed two unearned runs in 4.2 innings and left with the Huskies up 2-1. Rebeld freshman Colby Bortles, younger brother of Jaguars’ first pick Blake Bortles, doubled in Allen the next half inning. Bortles, making his first start in nearly two months, also hit a solo home run.
The Rebels started four freshmen position players during the regional.
“We have a lot of young players who are growing up,” Bianco said. “It’s a good mix, and it’s fun to see them have success so early.”
Allen, who led the SEC in regular season batting average, Bortles and leadoff batter Braxton Lee had two hits apiece.
Ole Miss is 10-8 this season against top 25 teams and 12-8 in one-run games.