OMAHA, Neb. – A pitching duel between Virginia and Ole Miss’ staff aces limited either side’s offense early in the going, but a walkoff hit by Mike Papi in the bottom of the ninth broke a 1-1 tie and gave Virginia the 2-1 victory in Game 4 of the 2014 College World Series in Omaha.
Both teams brought their respective staff aces to the mound on Sunday, a southpaw in Virginia’s Nathan Kirby and a right-hander in Ole Miss’ Chris Ellis, both of who employ a different approach on the mound.
While Kirby will come at you with a mid-90s heater and impressive slider, displaying strong control pitching and the ability to get you out by way of the K, Ellis attacks with a strong knack for pitching to contact, utilizing his defense while at the same time boasting a very good cut fastball and curve option.
Despite the effectiveness of both starters this season, both are coming off arguably their worst outings of the season. Kirby was unable to lasso in a hard-charging Maryland offense in the Charlottesville Super Regional opener, surrendering five runs on seven hits across 4 2/3 innings, while fanning a season-low two batters in the process. As for Ellis, Louisiana’s potent lineup chased the right-hander from the game in the third, after surrendering five runs (four earned) on just one hit (a three-run home run) and three free passes.
Nevertheless, the pair have had substantial time to regroup and as you would have it, both brought their respective game plans and proceeded to stymie each other’s lineups, starting with Kirby in the top of the first. Kirby struck out Braxton Lee on three pitches to open the game and followed by retiring five consecutive through the top of the second.
Errol Robinson punched a single to center to lead off the third, but Kirby responded nicely. After a botched hit and run resulted in Robinson being caught stealing, Kirby notched a strikeout and a groundout to get out of the inning.
As for Ellis, the Rebels’ starter issued a walk to Branden Cogswell to open the bottom of the first, but responded by sitting down eight straight batters before facing Cogswell once again in the third, this time with two outs.
Surrendering a walk with two outs is a proverbial menace, as a second walk to Cogswell led Ellis to run a two-seamer in on Daniel Pinero, putting two aboard for Mike Papi. Nevertheless, Ellis buckled down and got Papi to fly out to right the end the potential threat.
After fanning Joe McCarthy and fielding a comebacker by Derek Fisher to open the fourth, Ellis surrendered his first hits of the evening, back-to-back singles by Kenny Towns and John La Prise. Running the count to 3-2, Brandon Downes went down swinging on a curve down and away to reprieve Ellis from the inning.
However, Virginia put two aboard in the fifth, this time a pair of singles through the left side to open the frame. Pinero followed by taking a 2-2 pitch from Ellis and lined it to Preston Overbey at second, who rifled the ball back to first for the double play. An intentional walk of Papi brought McCarthy to the plate, who ripped a single up the middle and plated Nate Irving from second to give Virginia the 1-0 lead.
All the while, Kirby was dealing on the mound, retiring nine straight batters between the third and sixth before surrendering his first walk of the evening, which put Overbey at first with one out. Nevertheless, Kirby was unfazed and continued working his clinic, responding with his second strikeout of the inning and a groundout to end the inning. The inning required 18 pitches out of Kirby – the most of any single inning – bringing his pitch count up to 68, speaking volumes of his efficiency.
For the second straight inning, Virginia’s leadoff hitter reached base, this time a double down the left field line by Towns. But just as quickly as the Cavaliers were to strike, Ellis was quick to put out the fire by pitching to contact and utilizing his defense. A groundout, pop up, and well fielded stab at third by Austin Anderson got Ellis out of the inning with ease.
Virginia’s offense got their leadoff hitter aboard for the third straight inning in the eighth, as Cogswell worked his third walk off Ellis. The Rebels’ starter would be pulled in favor of Jeremy Massie, who held the Cavaliers at bay and registered the three outs to end the inning, but with the help of center fielder Auston Bousfield.
Evoking shades of Willie Mays, Bousfield made the from-behind basket catch off a deep drive from Fisher to record the third out – a pivotal out that kept the Rebels in the game for what would happen in the eighth.
With that momentous play, the Rebels carried that over to the plate in the top of the eighth. After seven dominant frames of one-hit ball, Kirby appeared to lose the ability to hit the zone, after pounding it with strikes throughout much of the game. A pair of walks to Sikes Orvis and Colby Bortles to start the inning incited Brian O’Connor to pull Kirby in favor of Artie Lewicki to hold the Rebels’ charge, but to no avail.
With runners on the corners following a Robinson sacrifice, Holt Perdzock grounded up the middle to short, allowing pinch runner Cameron Dishon to score from third to tie the game at 1-1. However, after a 1-2-3 inning from Aaron Greenwood to hold the Cavaliers at bay in the bottom of the frame, the Rebels could not get things going in the top of the ninth.
As for Virginia, they did in fact get things done. With a runner on second with two down, Papi took a 3-2 pitch from Greenwood and drove it to the right-center gap for the walkoff hit, cementing the 2-1 victory for Virginia. The Cavaliers will now face TCU in the winner’s bracket game on Tuesday at 8:00 p.m., whereas the Rebels will face off against Texas Tech in Tuesday’s elimination game at 3:00 p.m.