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June 1, 2009

Rebels win regional, ready to host Virginia

Western Kentucky infielder Wade Gaynor said Saturday UM pitchers Phillip Irwin and Jake Morgan were the best the Hilltoppers had seen all season.

Well, 48 hours later, those two Rebels will need to settle for lower spots on the podium.

Drew Pomeranz plowed through WKU (42-20) Monday and unanimously claimed regional MVP honors in front of the Swayze Field crowd of 8,255.

"(Pomeranz) was just incredible," Gaynor said. "I'll go ahead and say it - he is the best pitcher I've seen this year. It was the same from the first inning until the ninth inning…He painted the black with everything he threw."

The left-hander - pitching on two days rest - went the full nine innings and tied a school records for strikeouts with 16, as Ole Miss (43-18) won the decisive game of the Oxford Regional, 4-1, and will host Virginia (46-12-1) in a best-of-three super regional beginning Friday at 1 p.m. Saturday's game will begin at 11 a.m. and the if-necessary Sunday contest is scheduled for 2 p.m. ESPN2 will televise the first two games, while the Sunday game is tabbed for ESPN.

It is Ole Miss' fourth super regional berth in the last five years. It is the third time the series will be played in Oxford.

After a 10-9 heartbreaking setback Sunday, where Ole Miss led 9-3 with two innings to go, Bianco handed Pomeranz the ball in a must-win game, and the Collierville, Tenn., native used 119 pitches to scatter two hits, walk just one and carry a no-hitter into the seventh inning. The lone run was unearned.

"Legendary," Bianco called it. "I thought he could go deep, but man…"

Hilltoppers coach Chris Finwood shared the sentiment.

"It was absolutely one of the best pitching performances I've seen," Finwood said. "On this stage, in this environment, he really was incredible…And it's not like we're chopped liver."

Western Kentucky starter Matt Ridings worked out of trouble early and matched zeros until the sixth inning when Matt Smith singled and Kyle Henson followed with a double.

The WKU cutoff man caught the ball as Smith was rounding third, but third-base coach Rob Reinstetle sent Smith anyway. The move startled second baseman Matt Payton and the throw home was high and off the mark, allowing Smith to break the tie.

"Ridings effort will get lost in this, but he was tremendous," Bianco said.

Oxford native Chad Cregar broke up Pomeranz's no-hit bid with a cue shot toward Smith at first base in the seventh frame. The ball took a weird hop and bounced off Smith's hands. The capacity crowd booed disapproval when the official score when up.

"Definitely a hit," joked Smith during the postgame press conference.

Cregar followed with a stolen base, and Matt Hightower - brother Ole Miss catcher Taylor Hightower - hit a ball back up the middle with two outs. The ball ricocheted off Pomeranz and deflected straight to UM second baseman Evan Button, who couldn't get the handle and let the ball pop up in the air.

Cregar saw the ball pop up and ran through a stop sign at third. Button's throw was short and right, and the WKU outfielder slid in to tie the game.

"Coach was having a heart attack for me to stop, but I saw the ball pop up and just put my head down and went," Cregar said. "It was the fastest I've run in my life."

Ridings departed after the seventh inning, and the thin Hilltopper bullpen momentarily fell apart.

Chad Adcock was the first reliever, and he walked Logan Power to begin the eighth. Matt Snyder singled, and Smith tripled to clear the bases, scoring two runs. A two-out double from David Phillips added another run of insurance and brought the score to 4-1.

Pomeranz powered through the fatigue and handled things from there. He struck out three of the last four batters, and the celebration began when Gaynor hit a line drive at Jordan Henry in center field for the final out.

Pomeranz was mobbed by teammates, and the crowd gave a standing ovation while continuously belting out "Drrrreeeeewwww," a cheer that began in the first inning and became louder as the game progressed.

"It was the most fun I've ever had in a game that I was catching," Henson said. "Drew just spotted everything and was unbelievable."

NOTES: The Oxford Regional drew a seven-game total attendance of 54,984…Ole Miss starting pitchers compiled a tournament ERA of 1.57 in 28.2 innings…The Rebels are 40-31 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and 18-15 under Mike Bianco…Ole Miss is 12-3 all-time at home in regional games…Pomeranz's 16 strikeouts tied Jamey Price in 1995 against Kentucky and Robert Earl Siedell against Delta State in 1962…WKU entered Monday averaging 11.8 hits per game…Ole Miss' 43 wins are the third most in school history behind the 2005 (48) and 2006 (44) clubs.


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