So, Ole Miss has to win three straight games to reach the College World Series championship round. Sounds like a piece of cake. After all, this club has posted eight streaks of three or more wins this season en route to its 47 victories. The Rebels won two straight do-or-die games against Louisiana-Lafayette in their Super Regional to get to the CWS. But the three straight wins the Rebels need now will have to come against TCU and Virginia, who happen to be the only two national seeds who made it to Omaha. UVA already has beaten Ole Miss, holding the Rebels to one hit in a 2-1 game on Sunday. The Rebels didn’t hit much more against Texas Tech in their second game, managing five in the 2-1 win. (One of the runs was unearned.) But they say all it takes is one big hit to get an offense going, and maybe the Rebels got that Tuesday from John Gatlin, who delivered the walk-off pinch single in the bottom of the ninth. Of course, up next, on Thursday, is TCU, which entered the CWS with a 2.19 ERA, best in the nation. Then UM must beat UVA, also rich in pitching, twice. So, sure, three in a row is doable for the Rebels, but it ain’t gonna be easy.
If you believe that starting pitching is the primary key to winning in baseball — and many people do — then you’ve got to feel pretty good about Ole Miss’ chances in the College World Series. The Rebels have two excellent arms at the top of their rotation: Chris Ellis, who starts tonight against Virginia, and Christian Trent. Both were drafted — among the nine Rebels picked by MLB clubs — and their stats give indication as to why. Ellis is 10-2 with a 2.45 ERA, Trent 9-0, 2.21. Both won numerous big games in SEC play and beyond. The Rebels’ No. 3, should they need one in this double-elimination affair, is Sam Smith (5-4, 3.45), who was KO’d early in the Super Regional title game at Louisiana-Lafayette. (The bullpen came to the rescue.) A problem for Ole Miss is that two of the other three teams in its CWS bracket have better starting pitching, at least on paper. UVA, which spent part of the season ranked No. 1 in the nation, will throw All-American Nathan Kirby, a sophomore left-hander, at the Rebels in tonight’s game. He is 9-2 with a 1.73 — including an 18-strikeout no-hitter in April — though he did get roughed up a bit in his Super Regional start against Maryland. He fronts what might be the deepest rotation in Omaha. Then there’s TCU, which leads the country with a 2.19 staff ERA. The Horned Frogs’ top two starters are top-shelf arms: Brandon Finnegan and Preston Morrison. Morrison is slated to start today against Texas Tech, which means Ole Miss would face left-hander Finnegan (9-3, 2.12, 17th overall draft pick) should they meet in Round 2. Texas Tech isn’t known for its pitching, but the Red Raiders did post four shutouts in NCAA play en route to Omaha. They’ll start lefty Chris Sadberry against TCU, with Dylan Dusek, another solid lefty (8-0, 1.94), waiting in the wings.