OXFORD - Ole Miss is sitting in the driver's seat of the Oxford Regional after defeating Arizona State in Saturday's winner's bracket game.
The 13th-ranked Rebels struck for two runs in the bottom of the sixth and used yet another gem in the circle from junior pitcher Kaitlin Lee (22-10) to defeat the No. 22 Sun Devils 2-0.
Ole Miss improved to 42-18, setting a new program record for wins in a season. Arizona State dropped to 31-21 and must now await the winner of Saturday'selimination game between Southern Illinois and North Carolina.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss advanced to the championship game of the Oxford Regional and is the only team remaining in the tournament without a loss. The Rebels are scheduled to play at 1:30 p.m. Sunday for the regional championship against whichever team emerges from the loser's bracket. A game seven would begin at approximately 4 p.m. Sunday, if necessary.
Saturday's game was a pitching battle between Lee and Arizona State's Dale Ryndak with Ole Miss finally breaking through in the bottom of the sixth.
Lee and Ryndak had each posted zeroes on the scoreboard until Elantra Cox led off the Rebels' half of the sixth with a triple to right-center field. Kylan Becker then stepped to the plate delivering on improbable back-to-back triples, scoring Cox and pushing Ole Miss in front 1-0. Miranda Strother provided Ole Miss with a little breathing room when she ripped a two-out double to right field scoring Becker and upping the lead to 2-0.
"I was looking for something I could drive," said Cox, "also to get a high hop...To get to three, I saw Coach rounding me, so I said, 'Alright, let's get there.'"
Ole Miss head coach Mike Smith said he knew Cox's triple was the catalyst the Rebels needed.
"When Elantra got that triple, I knew that Becker was going to come up. I figured Becker was going to get a high-hop, and that's how we'd do it. That's prototypical Ole Miss, but we'll take the triple, too," Smith smiled.
Arizona State began the top of the seventh with a single from Sashel Palacios but she was thrown out to second trying to stretch the hit into a double. Lee then retired the next two batters to send Ole Miss to the championship game.
The Sun Devils threatened in the top of the fourth inning then they put runners at first and second with no outs. Chelsea Gonzales walked to lead things off followed by a base hit off the bat of Palacios. Lee, however, served up a line drive double play to Ulufa Leilua into the glove of third baseman Ashton Lampton, who promptly threw over to second to double up Gonzales and effectively end the threat.
Lee (22-10) tossed her sixth consecutive complete game of the postseason, allowing just three hits, a walk and striking out three. Ryndak (8-5) took the loss in the circle for Arizona State, going the distance.
Lee who has proven to be a work horse, was excited to not have to pitch a second game Saturday night.
"I'd be ready to do it, of course," said Lee. "It's wonderful to go in and think that we can play just one game tomorrow and be done with it for a week."
The Rebels are playing in a regional final for the second time in program history and the second time in two seasons. They were eliminated in the championship game by Oklahoma in the Norman Regional last season.
"I think being able to play against Oklahoma, which was of course the eventual national champion, gave us a lot of experience. It helped with our poise. "