Ole Miss to sit out CWS again

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 8, 2009

OXFORD (AP) — Virginia coach Brian O’Connor is headed home, and this time he’s taking the Cavaliers along.

O’Connor grew up watching College World Series games by his father’s side and appeared there as a player and assistant coach. Now he’s finally going as a head coach after leading the gutty Cavaliers to a 5-1 win over Mississippi on Sunday in Game 3 of their nail-biting super regional.

‘‘A lot will be made of that and I really don’t want it to be about that. I want it to be about the kids,’’ said O’Connor, who grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, just across the border from Omaha, Neb.

Email newsletter signup

‘‘I get to go home one time every year,’’ he said. ‘‘This is the chance of a lifetime for these kids.’’

O’Connor played at Rosenblatt Stadium with Creighton and was an assistant coach at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish went to Omaha in 2002 under Paul Mainieri, now the coach at LSU — and Virginia’s opening opponent next weekend.

The Cavaliers got to the College World Series with pitching and defense in a series that was tight and tense.

Matt Packer, in his third appearance of the series, and three others combined for 10 strikeouts and allowed just seven hits as the Cavaliers (48-13-1) set the school record for wins in a season. Virginia improved to 5-1 since the start of the NCAA tournament, allowing just nine earned runs.

The Cavaliers’ ERA against Ole Miss was 2.33 and is now 1.50 overall since they won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament last month. They gave up just 23 hits against the Rebels, who had a .219 batting average in the series, and struck out 26 on the way to setting a school record (567) for strikeouts in a season.

Packer pitched 3 2-3 innings, giving up just two hits and an unearned run with two strikeouts and one walk in the series, just one of several gutty turns on the mound for the Cavaliers.

O’Connor began with Poutier, a fifth-year senior who hasn’t started since April, and informed his staff to be ready to come on when things got tight. After allowing a run to start the first inning, the Cavaliers allowed just one runner to advance beyond second base and stranded eight Rebels. Ole Miss was 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position.

‘‘Being tired isn’t really an option at this point,’’ Packer said. ‘‘That’s not really a word we think about. All the guys who were coming out of the bullpen kind of all got it done. We’ve been doing that all year.’’

The Rebels (44-20) have lost four straight super regionals over the last five seasons as they strive for their first College World Series appearance since 1972. In three of the four super regionals under Bianco, Ole Miss hosted and took 1-0 leads only to fall.

The Rebels committed three errors and were unable to stop Virginia on the base paths. The Cavaliers stole six bases in the game and 12 in the series, taking advantage of left-handed pitchers with slow moves to the plate.

Virginia tied the game at 1 with the help of a double steal in the fourth inning.

‘‘It seemed like every time you looked up, they were running,’’ Ole Miss’ Matt Smith said.

Then, after a botched grounder by second baseman Evan Button helped the Cavaliers rally to a 4-3 win Saturday to force Game 3, another Sunday by shortstop Kevin Mort kept a three-run burst rolling in the fourth, putting the game out of reach.

Steven Proscia started that rally with a single, then stole second and scored on Franco Valdes’ single. Mort’s error on a hot but routine grounder from John Barr moved Valdes to third and he scored two batters later on Tyler Cannon’s sacrifice fly. Phil Gosselin then brought Barr home with a single to right.

Proscia had three hits, two stolen bases and an RBI, while John Hicks was 2 for 3 with an RBI and a run.

Valdes finished 1 for 4, and had a hit and an RBI in each game. He’s on a nine-game hitting streak going into the Series.

‘‘I’m just so happy for these kids,’’ O’Connor said. ‘‘They’re in for the experience they’ll never forget. We’re obviously going out to Omaha to win and I’ve got a lot of confidence we can win.’’