Arizona won the Pac-12 title and continued its dominance of West Coast baseball by beating Grand Canyon and UC Santa Barbara (twice) in the Tucson Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Now comes a completely different challenge in the Super Regionals.
Ole Miss, which won the Oxford Regional and is the No. 12 overall seed, will bring its SEC style of ball to Hi Corbett for a best-of-3 series that begins Friday night.
To help us understand what the UA is facing in the Rebels (44-20), we reached out to Zach Berry of our sister site Red Cup Rebellion for some insight. Here are his in-depth answers to our half-assed questions:
AZ Desert Swarm: It’s hard not to notice how ridiculous Ole Miss’ pitching staff is in terms of strikeouts recorded, with basically every arm averaging more than a punchout per inning. What’s the secret to this success?
Zach Berry: “Doug Nikhazy leads the way for this staff. Dude is just a competitor. He’s not going to blow you away with velocity, but he is sharp with his location and can move to both sides of the plate with ease. Outside of that, it’s a group of psychopaths that challenge you every single pitch. (Pitching coach) Carl Lafferty has always had pitching staffs that put up big numbers, but this group is different. They have an edge to them that can’t be taught.”
AZDS: Nikhazy came out of the pen Monday after throwing 119 pitches two days earlier, and closer Taylor Broadway pitched in three of four games. Is there any concern about fatigue from the staff after needing to go an extra day (and game) in the regionals?
ZB: “At this point, I’m not doubting either one of those guys. The regional final was a huge moment for the program and Nikhazy and Broadway were probably running on a ton of adrenaline. They will certainly be resting up before game one in Tucson but they will be needed nonetheless.”
AZDS: The Rebels average 7+ runs per game, but prior to scoring 19 in two games against Southern Miss the offense looked to have been slumping. Is there any concern?
ZB: (Head coach) Mike Bianco did a little shuffling over the last few weeks. This was the No. 1 offense in the SEC all year long and he kinda got cute with the card at the SEC Tournament and in the regional, but I anticipate this group to come out swinging early and often next weekend.”
AZDS: Ole Miss has 82 home runs, but Hi Corbett Field isn’t your average-sized college field. How are the Rebels with the glove?
ZB: “They’re honestly pretty average. Hayden Dunhurst is a Buster Posey Award semifinalist and is one of the best (catchers) in the country and Jacob Gonzalez is a true freshman at short and has big-play ability, but outside of those two, the defense is fine. They will make the everyday play, but won’t wow you with anything spectacular.”
AZDS: Please explain how senior Tim Elko is not only playing with a torn ACL but excelling, batting .302 with 7 HR and 18 RBI since getting hurt?
ZB: “He is an alien.”
AZDS: Lastly, this is the third Arizona/Ole Miss clash in postseason competition, with Arizona softball and Ole Miss women’s golf coming out on top. Why does this keep happening, and why is it somehow the doing of former Arizona/Mississippi State and current Alabama AD Greg Bryne?
ZB: “He’s a Sun Devil. Can’t be trusted.”