— A marathon 4-hour, 17-minute baseball game came to an abrupt end Friday afternoon. And that's because Virginia closer Kevin Arico threw a pitch he'd like to have back.
The right-hander's first-pitch fastball in the bottom of the 12th inning got too much of the plate, and Mississippi first baseman Matt Smith smacked it over the left-center field fence to send the Cavaliers to a 4-3 loss in the first game of a best-of-three NCAA Super Regional at Oxford-University Stadium.
"It's pretty simple," Arico said. "I threw him a fastball and left it up over the heart of the plate. Then he did what any good hitter is going to do.
"He crushed it."
Virginia (46-13-1) and Ole Miss (44-18) play again at noon today in a game televised on ESPN2. The Cavaliers must win two games in a row to advance to the College World Series for the first time in program history.
"Nobody deserved to lose that one," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said.
"We'll respond tomorrow and be ready to play tomorrow ... Our players have responded all year to difficult defeats and this should be no different." The Cavaliers will throw right-hander Robert Morey (3-0, 2.91 ERA) against Ole Miss left-hander Drew Pomeranz (8-4, 3.46) in the must-win game.
But Friday night, Virginia was left to mull over lost opportunities.
Leading 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Cavaliers' second baseman Keith Werman bobbled a ground ball that allowed Evan Button to reach base for Ole Miss.
Virginia reliever Matt Packer hit the next batter to put runners on first and second with no outs. O'Connor went to the bullpen, bringing in Arico, but after retiring the first Ole Miss batter, Logan Power ripped a single to left-center field that brought home Button and tied the game at 3.
Once the game went into extra innings, it was closer against closer.
Virginia used Arico (2-3) while Ole Miss had right-hander Jake Morgan (4-1) on the mound.
The Cavaliers had a golden opportunity to score in the top of the 12th inning when Jarrett Parker reached on a error to open the inning. But he was caught in a rundown after a bad sacrifice bunt by Corey Hunt for the first out.
Hunt advanced to second on an errant pickoff throw, but after an intentional walk, Morgan retired the next two batters — including a long fly ball to the warning track by Steven Proscia — to kill the rally.
Smith was 0-for-5 until the game-winning home run, which was his eighth homer of the season. It was the first time the Cavaliers have trailed during this year's NCAA tournament. The pitching staff gave up more runs Friday (four) then it did the entire Irvine Regional last weekend (two).
"I wanted to see if he'd challenge me inside," Smith said. "And the first pitch was a fastball in. I didn't try to do too much and barrel it up. I did and it went out of the park. The place went nuts."
U.Va. wasted a gritty outing from freshman ace Danny Hultzen, who gave up only two runs in 5 1/3 innings despite throwing in front of a raucous crowd of 9,213, which was the largest in Ole Miss postseason history.
"I knew he could handle it," O'Connor said. "He's had great poise all year."
Virginia outhit Ole Miss 11-10. Parker, Proscia and Phil Gosselin each had two hits. Ole Miss starter Phillip Irwin threw seven solid innings, giving up three runs.
"We just have to flush this one away," Hultzen said. "There's nothing we can do about it now. There's no pointing fingers. We just have to be ready to play (tomorrow)."
OLE MISS 4, VIRGINIA 3, 12 innings Virginia
010020000000 — 3 11 2
000101001001 — 4 10 2
Hultzen (6), Wilson (8), Packer (9) and Arico Irwin (7), Goforth (9) and Morgan. W—Morgan, 4-1. L—Arico, 2-3. HRs—Mississippi, Smith (8).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun