Ole Miss, CWS teams seeking offense

Published 10:00 am Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ole Miss’ John Gatlin hits a game-winning single Tuesday against Texas Tech. It’s one of only six hits the Rebels have gotten in a College World Series punctuated by a lack of offense. (Bruce Newman/The Oxford Eagle)

Ole Miss’ John Gatlin hits a game-winning single Tuesday against Texas Tech. It’s one of only six hits the Rebels have gotten in a College World Series punctuated by a lack of offense. (Bruce Newman/The Oxford Eagle)

Omaha has become Maha for Ole Miss and the rest of the teams in the College World Series.

There’s hardly any “O” to be found.

The Rebels, who entered the College World Series with a team batting average of .303 — 14th nationally and the best of the eight teams in the field — have gotten only six hits and scored three runs in their first two games.

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It’s an untimely slump, but not a fatal one. Not only is Ole Miss (47-20) still standing, it’s a hair’s breadth away from being in the driver’s seat in its bracket.

The Rebels have taken one walk-off loss and gotten another walk-off win. The next challenge is TCU (48-17), which will play Ole Miss in an elimination game tonight.

“I think we faced two very, very good pitchers that pitched well. It’s not only to be talented, but you on the other side, and we’ve only given up three runs. You know, so it’s just baseball in this ballpark. That’s what it is,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “I think every game is like that. I think we’re better than what we’ve performed. So, fortunately we’re still playing, and we haven’t swung it great. But baseball’s like that.”

Opposing pitching has certainly been one reason for Ole Miss’ slump.

Virginia’s Nathan Kirby and Artie Lewicki combined for the first one-hitter in the CWS since 1983 in a 2-1 win over the Rebels on Sunday.

On Tuesday, Texas Tech starter Ryan Moseley allowed one unearned run and struck out six batters in 7 1/3 innings. The Rebels got four hits off Moseley and one more off the Red Raiders’ bullpen — the game-winning, RBI single in the bottom of the ninth by John Gatlin.

Ole Miss, however, has stayed alive by having its pitchers mattch the opposition. Chris Ellis allowed one run in six innings against Virginia, and Christian Trent threw eight shutout innings against Texas Tech.

The Rebels have also gotten some timely hits. All three of their runs have been scored in the seventh inning or later.

“Our guys haven’t panicked, but wait until we can put an inning together. It happened in Lafayette. We didn’t score a lot, and scored a few runs on that second game then finally exploded,” Bianco said.

Ole Miss, also, is not alone in its lack of offensive production — or its frustration with it.

Vanderbilt is the only team to have scored more than four runs in a game in this year’s CWS, and in seven of the first nine games a total of five runs or fewer were scored. The first home run wasn’t hit until Wednesday night, when Texas’ C.J. Hinojosa went deep for the only run in the Longhorns’ 1-0 win over UC Irvine.

Besides a few dominant pitching performances, much of the blame has been laid at the feet of TD Ameritrade Park. Since becoming the CWS venue in 2011, it’s been a tough park for hitters with its deep fences and unfriendly breezes.

Several times in this CWS, winds of 30 mph or more have been blowing straight in.

“You look at the Big Ten tournament here, and they had eight (homers) in a span of 13 games,” NCAA managing director for championships and alliances Damani Leech told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “So same ballpark, roughly same time of year, a different set of teams, but a completely different set of results in terms of home runs.”

Leech said he’s hopeful the move from a raised-seam to flat-seam ball in 2015 will nudge offensive numbers upward. Leech said it will take two years to know if the ball has the intended effect.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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