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NCAA Baseball: Ole Miss crushes Arizona in regional final, avenging last year’s Super Regional loss

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CORAL GABLES, Fla.—There was a lot about this Arizona team that was similar to the one that reached the College World Series a year ago. But one thing that was glaringly different with the 2022 Wildcats was their inability to win a slugfest.

And it was in one that their season came to an end.

Arizona’s depleted pitching staff was no match for Ole Miss’ red-hot hitters, while the UA’s lineup didn’t have nearly enough firepower to keep up in a 22-6 loss on Monday night. The loss eliminated the Wildcats (39-25) from the NCAA Tournament’s Coral Gables Regional, with the Rebels (35-22) heading into a Super Regional matchup at No. 11 Southern Miss.

Ole Miss, which was the last team picked for the tourney, avenges a Super Regional loss to the UA in Tucson last June.

Tied at 5 after four innings thanks to three home runs, including two by senior Blake Paugh, Arizona was outscored 17-1 after that to turn a back-and-forth affair into a rout. A grand slam by Kemp Alderman keyed a 5-run fifth, while the Rebels plated eight in the sixth against three different UA pitchers.

All told, eight different Wildcat arms were used and all allowed at least one run. Chandler Murphy lasted only 1.1 innings, giving up four runs, then Eric Orloff allowed three over three innings and George Arias Jr. yielded three in just one-third of an inning.

“Those pitchers, they battled as best they could today but just couldn’t get it done,” UA coach Chip Hale said. “It does show you though, and it’s something that we need to work on in the offseason, that we need to get deeper in our bullpen. We need guys that are going to be able to handle these situations. I mean, Quinn Flanagan threw three times in 24 hours. That’s pretty impressive. And that’s something you really don’t want to do to a kid. He’s a senior, and we’re hoping he gets a chance to play the next level, but boy, I would hate for anybody to get hurt. So we may need to get a little deeper at that part of our roster.”

The UA lost 18 of 19 games this season when allowing seven or more runs, compared with a 6-11 mark in such games in 2021 thanks to 26 times having a double-digit scoring output.

Arizona’s pitching already had an empty tank after playing three games in a 24-hour span on Saturday and Sunday, the result of the regional’s start being pushed back by a tropical system and the schedule getting condensed in order to finish on Monday. A second regional final game, had the UA beaten Ole Miss, would have started an hour after.

This contest began more than four hours after its scheduled start time due to rain and lightning, a theme for the weekend.

“It was so tough here because of the weather, let’s face it,” Hale said. “It’s Mother Nature and it’s part of the deal here. I think our guys responded pretty well after the first night. I’m so proud of this club, all year obviously, they played their hearts out and stuck together. They left it out there, that’s all we asked these last couple of days, just doing the best you can.”

The UA fell behind 2-0 in the first on a 2-run homer by regional MVP Tim Elko, who hit three longballs in the game and was 4 for 4 with five RBI and six runs scored. A 2-run homer by Tanner O’Tremba tied it in the bottom of the first, and after Ole Miss had a 2-run homer in the second from Peyton Chatagnier—who drove in six after having five RBI against Arizona in a 7-4 win on Saturday night—Paugh hit a solo shot to get the Wildcats within 4-3.

Elko’s second homer, in the third, gave the Rebels a 5-3 lead, but then Paugh hit a 2-run shot in the fourth to tie it at 5. It was the fourth homer of the regional for Paugh, who had two against Canisius on Sunday after hitting just one during an injury-plagued regular season.

Arizona had 11 homers from seven different players during the regional, but only five of 21 runs scored didn’t come via the longball. It went 5 for 30 with runners in scoring position (1 for 6 in the finale) and 12 of 57 with runners on base in the four regional games.

Paugh, O’Tremba, Chase Davis and Daniel Susac made the regional all-tournament team, with Susac going getting two singles in his final UA game. The projected first-round MLB draft pick finished the season with 100 hits, the 10th player in school history to do that, had his 34 multi-hit games were fourth-most by a Wildcat.

“I was telling my family the other day, I think the second-best decision I ever made was coming to Arizona, but I think the best one was staying here,” Susac said, eliciting an embrace from Hale during the postgame press conference.

Susac publicly announced he was staying at the UA shortly after Jay Johnson left to take the LSU job, providing Hale was a key piece of a team that won the fourth-most games in the past 14 seasons.

“I don’t think the program can be in better hands, and the coaching staff and the players all understand it, they get it, and I think it’s in great hands.”

Susac is one of several UA players who are expected to move on, either by getting drafted, signing a pro contract, graduating or possibly entering the NCAA transfer portal. But among the key returnees expected is Davis, whose 18 homers in 2022 were tied for seventh-most in school history.

Davis homered in Arizona’s first two regional games and was on deck when O’Tremba hit the game-winning 2-run double to beat No. 6 national seed Miami on Sunday night to reach the regional final.

“It just kind of gave me a reflection of who we are as a team and as a family,” Davis said of Arizona’s postseason run. “It just showed me that this is who we are. This is the kind of guys I surround myself with each and every single day. So just being able to do that yesterday was to show a lot of heart, show a lot of fight. I think it showed resiliency and fight.”

Hale, a former UA player who holds the school career records for games played (255), at-bats (978), hits (337) and walks (162), once again noted how proud he was to coach his alma mater despite not achieving all of the team’s goals for his first season.

“I’ve done a lot of things in pro ball, whether it’s playing or coaching or managing, and the joy that this season gave me, to be back at my university that I’m so proud of, to fill a position that Jerry Kindall filled, and I hold in the highest regards, it’s very special,” he said. “And it’s special because of the people. The program is about the people who are in it, the people who are texting me right now, all the alumni, all these people that are so important to me and so important to our university, our administration. It’s such a wonderful place to work, and it’s a breath of fresh air for me every day I enter Hi Corbett Field. It’s about the relationships and about the people, so I’m very happy about it.

“We’re not happy we’re not in Omaha. We want to win, but it’s also about these guys and developing them as men and people who are going to be productive people in our society, and we have a lot of them, whether they’re Major League Baseball players or lawyers or doctors or engineers, we got a bunch of guys who are student athletes. I’m very proud.”