It was a hell of a fun ride, but it's finally over. Ole Miss lost hold of an early 1-0 lead and fell for a second time to Virginia, officially ending their historic and thoroughly unexpected 2014 season. A disappointing outing from Chris Ellis and another tough day at the plate led to a 4-1 loss.
The game, which picked up in the second inning following a rain postponement from Friday, started off exactly the way Ole Miss had hoped. Scott Weathersby, making the de facto start, inherited two runners and no outs in the top of the second inning. Weathersby forced three straight outs to escape with no damage.
Ole Miss promptly took the lead in the bottom of the second, scoring Will Allen from third while Virginia was busy throwing J.B. Woodman out at second.
The high-water mark of the Rebs' chances came in the bottom of the third, when they managed to put men on second and third with one out. A strikeout by Auston Bousfield and a walk by Austin Anderson then loaded the bases with two away. Allen absolutely smoked a ball in the next at-bat … right at the third baseman to end the threat.
From there on, it was pretty much downhill.
Weathersby went just one inning before being pulled for Ellis, the ace starter coming back on short rest. Unfortunately for Ellis, the control problems that have haunted him for much of the back half of the season reared their head. After getting three up, three down in the third, he hit a major rough patch in the fourth. Two walks and two singles brought in three runs for the Cavs, giving them a 3-1 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Ellis continued to struggle with his control over the next two innings. After an unimpressive 3⅔ innings, he was yanked in favor of Wyatt Short in the sixth. In the end, he allowed three runs off four hits, walking three. Thirty of his 68 pitches were balls.
Short was solid, but did allow an insurance run in the seventh to make it 4-1.
Meanwhile, the Rebel bats never mounted another real threat. They were baffled by the Cavaliers' stellar pitching staff for a second game, finishing with just six hits.
Don't blame Bianco
There will surely be some that jump on Bianco's decision to pull Weathersby after just one inning and replace him with Ellis. Stop it. After overcoming my initial surprise, I loved Bianco's plan. Weathersby is accustomed to coming out of the pen, so he felt comfortable starting an appearance with two inherited runners. Once he got out of it, Ellis entered with a clean slate -- essentially drawing the start for a seven inning game. While that could have presented problems in terms of who would start the next day, you had to win Saturday to get there.
In the end this is on Ellis. You have to be able to count on your ace in situations like this, and he simply couldn't answer the bell.
Hell of season, y'all
Despite its frustrating end, let's take a second to acknowledge how awesome this baseball season was. Almost nobody, myself included, expected much from this team. A year after losing their top two starters, a closer with the school record in saves and the best catcher in the country, the Rebs were an afterthought entering 2014. They were picked to finish second to last in the SEC West.
Instead, they finished fourth in the country.
What this team accomplished this season is nothing short of amazing. There are buckets of credit to be passed around: Ellis and Christian Trent for developing into dominant SEC starters; Allen and Sikes Orvis for overcoming an awful 2013 to become an unstoppable slugging duo; Weathersby, Aaron Greenwood and Josh Laxer for being phenomenal out of the pen all year; the freshmen -- Short, Errol Robinson, J.B. Woodman, Colby Bortles -- for stepping up big time; the list goes on...
At the head of that list, of course, is Bianco. Facing a make or break year and relentless pressure from an increasingly restless fan base, Bianco delivered his best season as a coach in Oxford and finally, finally got the Omaha monkey off his back. Expect a well-deserved extension in the coming weeks.
We'll do a bit more pontificating and reminiscing next week before we officially close our baseball season coverage, but for now, let's sit back, enjoy the season that was … and drink.