TUCSON, Ariz. • Ole Miss has been here before.
The No. 11 seed Rebels fell to No. 6 seed Arizona 5-2 in the first game of an NCAA softball super regional on Friday, forcing an elimination game onto a group that thrived on them while winning the Oxford Regional last weekend.
“This is nothing new for us,” Ole Miss coach Mike Smith said. “They’re fighters. They’re resilient. They’re going to continue to bring it. Don’t count us out.”
All-SEC center fielder Kylan Becker had two singles, two runs and two stolen bases, setting the school career stolen base record with 79, and the Rebels disrupted Arizona with their speed game early.
But Ole Miss was hurt by two errors that led to two unearned runs, and they left eight runners on base, including the bases loaded in the first and third innings.
The teams will meet today at 7 p.m., and with a victory Ole Miss would force a winner-take-all third game Sunday for a berth in the College World Series. The Rebels won elimination games against Southeast Missouri and Louisiana (twice) last week to get this far.
“We made some uncharacteristic defensive mishaps,” Smith said. “At this stage of the year, good teams are going to take advantage of that. We just need to do a better job of being a little more crisp.”
The Rebels had four stolen bases in the first inning, two by Becker, who scored after singling in both the first and second innings for 1-0 and 2-1 leads.
Arizona answered each time, on a ground-ball double down the third base line that was ruled fair in the first inning and after first baseman Abbey Latham dropped a potential inning-ending pickoff throw in the second. Smith spoke to the home plate umpire after Malia Martinez’s double past a diving Amanda Roth in the first.
“If she dives and the ball hits her glove, that ball is foul,” Smith said.
Ole Miss did not have a hit off Arizona left-hander Taylor McQuillin after Tate Whitley’s infield single with two outs in the third inning. Roth was hit by a pitch to load the bases before pinch-hitter Gabby Alvarez struck out to end the inning.
“We kept them on their heels (early),” Becker said. “Those last couple of innings … we put the ball in the air a little too much. We need to use that ground. It’s hard. It’s fast, and we’re a fast team. When we put pressure on teams, sometimes they can’t handle it.”
Arizona took a 4-2 lead in the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly by Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza and an RBI single by Martinez, who had four hits, and tacked on an unearned run in the fifth off Brittany Finney, who gave up 12 hits.
“To be honest with you, our players looked like they were deer in a headlight,” Smith said after Arizona took its two-run lead.
“That’s not characteristic of this ball club. I just kept telling them to fight. That’s what we do. I didn’t see that in those middle innings there.”