Less than two innings from going two-and-out in the program's first trip to an NCAA Super Regional, Virginia used a crucial Ole Miss error to spark a game-winning rally as the Cavaliers beat the Rebels 4-3 Saturday afternoon at Oxford-University Stadium.
Virginia (47-13-1) and Ole Miss (44-19) play a winner-take-all Game 3 today at 3 p.m. with a trip to the College World Series on the line.
The Cavaliers never have been to Omaha, while the Rebels haven't made the trip since 1972.
"It almost always comes down to a clutch hit or a clutch play," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said.
And Saturday, it was Virginia that came up with the big plays late, rallying from a 3-2 deficit in the eighth inning.
With one out in the eighth, U.Va.'s Danny Hultzen hit what appeared to be a routine ground ball to Ole Miss second baseman Evan Button, who surprisingly short-armed the 70-foot throw to first base, and it skipped past first baseman Matt Smith.
And that was enough of an opening for the Cavaliers to get things rolling.
Steven Proscia followed with a walk and Franco Valdes ripped a single to right field that scored Hultzen, tying the game at 3 and deflating a massive announced crowd of 10,323 — an Oxford-University Stadium record.
"I knew he was going to come inside with something," Valdes said. "He gave it to me, and I was trying to be clutch for my team. I think that's what we're going to have to do tomorrow."
John Barr followed Valdes' single with an RBI groundout that brought home Proscia to give the Cavaliers a 4-3 lead.
Ole Miss had a chance to answer in the top of the ninth when Zach Miller hit a leadoff double down the third-base line and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt. But O'Connor brought in left-hander Matt Packer, who got Kevin Mort to pop out to shallow left field and Miller had to hold at third.
Then with two outs, Packer intentionally walked Tim Ferguson, which brought All- SEC outfielder Jordan Henry to the plate. But Packer coaxed a harmless ground out and the game was over.
Though it was a bit surprising to see O'Connor walk Ferguson in favor of Henry, who's arguably the Rebels' best player, the strategy worked to perfection.
"You've got to do things that are a little out of the box sometimes to win," O'Connor said grinning. "I liked that matchup."
Virginia struggled early in the game off of Ole Miss ace Drew Pomeranz, who gave up two runs and struck out 10 over seven innings. Mississippi's David Goforth (1-1) took the loss after giving up the two unearned runs in the eighth.
But just like they have all season, the Cavaliers had the pitching to match, getting good performances from starter Robert Morey and relievers Andrew Carraway (8-1) and Packer.
Morey gave up three runs over five innings, while Carraway, who was supposed to be today's starter, threw 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief before Packer slammed the door for his third save of the season.
O'Connor said the decision to use Carraway was simple because of one fact: Virginia had to win Saturday just to have a chance to play today.
Said Carraway: "I came to the field ready to pitch. I knew that if my number was called I'd be ready."
O'Connor said he didn't know who will start today's game on the mound. Ole Miss will throw left-hander Nathan Baker (4-2, 3.63 ERA), who's been used mainly in relief this season and hasn't started since April 28.
"I don't know where we go from here," O'Connor said. "I just know that we have a number of guys who are hungry and want the ball."
VIRGINIA 4, MISSISSIPPI 3
200001000 — 3 6 2
00110002x — 4 8 2
Pomeranz (7) and Goforth; Morey (6), Carraway (8) and Packer. W — Carraway, 8-1. L — Goforth, 1-1. Save — Packer (3). HR — Mississippi, Power (7).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun