TUCSON, Ariz. – Ole Miss is getting closer, but its first appearance in the College World Series will have to wait.
Auburn Gillespie’s towering home run 10 rows deep into the left field bleachers in the third inning was one of the Rebels’ few bright spots in Friday night's season-ending 9-1 loss to No. 6 seed Arizona, which swept the NCAA super regional to advance to its 23rd World Series.
Ole Miss (41-20) finished one victory short of its third 42-win season in the last four years while playing its second super regional in the last three under program-builder Mike Smith, who used his postgame meeting with the players to reinforce his belief in the program.
“I told these girls, I want you to take a look over to the other side,” Smith said. “That’s going to be us very soon. We’re close. We’re going to get there.”
The game marked the end of center fielder Kylan Becker’s record-setting career. Becker set a school season record for runs in the Oxford Regional and set a school career record for stolen bases with two here in the super regional.
Becker had a single and a walk in four plate appearances Saturday and finished with a .417 career postseason batting average. She holds school postseason records for hits, doubles, triples, runs, RBIs and stolen bases.
“This is the best team we’ve had in my four years, and every year it keeps getting better,” said Becker, who wept when asked about her time in Oxford.
Arizona had homers from Dejah Mulipola, Malia Martinez and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza – the Wildcats are second in the NCAA with 106 homers – but it was a flukey three-run fourth inning that broke a tie at 1 and gave the Wildcats some breathing room.
Martinez, who had six hits in the super regional, beat out an infield single behind second base before Molly Jacobsen walked Mulipola. Rylee Pierce hit a comebacker to Jacobsen, who looked to third and could have forced Martinez but instead threw to first, enabling the runners to move up.
Reyna Carranco dumped a single behind shortstop to score the go-ahead run, and Hanah Bowen’s line single to left field scored two when left fielder Tate Whitley lost the ball in the sun and the it got past her to the fence.
“As that sun set, it just got progressively worse,” said Smith, who team did not have a practice on the sunny field. “It’s part of the home field advantage, part of TV making the times for the game. I’m sure it may have been different if the game started at 6 or 7.”
The Rebels left the base loaded twice early in Friday’s 5-2 loss and again were unable to push a run across after loading the bases Saturday, loading the bases with no outs before Alyssa Denham got out of the inning with two strikeouts and a groundout. Denham visited Ole Miss after leaving Louisiana-Lafayette after one season but before transferring to Arizona.
“That kind of took the wind out of our sails,” Smith said. “You have to tip your cap to Denham. She really used that drop ball to her advantage, and that changeup at certain times.”