OXFORD, Miss. --- The bad news from Jacksonville State’s NCAA Oxford Regional opener is the Gamecocks once again find their backs against the wall. The good news?
JSU is pretty good as this backs-to-the-wall thing.
The Gamecocks surrendered 17 hits and nine two-out runs en route to a 12-2 loss to No. 12 Ole Miss on Saturday, falling to 36-26 on the season and 0-7 in NCAA tourney play since moving up to Division I in 1995.
JSU will play Georgia Tech in Sunday’s 11 a.m. elimination-bracket game on Swayze Field. If the Gamecocks win, then they would play the Ole Miss-Washington loser at 7 p.m.
The double-elimination regional concludes Monday, one day behind schedule because of rain that forced postponement of Friday’s scheduled openers.
JSU coach Jim Case said he plans to start senior right-hander Taylor Shields (4-4, 4.63 ERA) against Georgia Tech.
“I really don’t know past that point, because there’s really no reason to worry about it now,” Case said.
It’s time to think win or go home, and JSU knows something about that. The Gamecocks got an automatic NCAA tourney bid by becoming the first team on Ohio Valley Conference history to win six games in a row out of the elimination bracket to win the league tournament.
To survive the Oxford Regional, JSU would now have to win four in a row --- two on Sunday and two Monday.
JSU’s experience of having survived the OVC tourney a week ago “will keep us from panicking,” said sophomore designated hitter Paschal Petronogolo, who extended his season-best hitting streak to 12 games and drove in one of JSU’s runs Saturday. “We’ve been here before. We’ve done it before.
“We’re a team that, when our back is against the wall, we’re going to come out fighting. We’re not panicking, whatsoever.”
JSU showed encouraging signs early Saturday, scoring a run on Petrongolo’s single off Ole Miss starter Chris Ellis (10-1) in the top of the first inning. The Gamecocks did it in front of a crowd announced at 10,394, the largest to see an NCAA tourney game at Swayze Field.
The first inning also saw senior right-fielder Griff Gordon single ahead of Petrongolo for Gordon’s school-record 97th hit of the season. He went 2-for-4 on the day to reach 98, besting Clay Whittemore’s 6-year-old school mark by two.
“I don’t really try to keep up with those kinds of things,” Gordon said. “But, yeah, it’s a big deal. I’m really happy that I got it.”
But as quickly as JSU made good, Ole Miss made adjustments. Gordon and Petronogolo got their first-inning hits on the last changeups they saw all night.
“I felt like my fastball was working,” Ellis said. “I thought he (Gordon) was a little bit late on most of them, so we kind of stuck with the fastball/curveball combo after that, and it worked out pretty well for us.”
Ellis went on to pitch a complete game, striking out eight batters and facing just six above the minimum.
JSU’s pitching staff struggled out of the gate.
Starter Zachary Fowler (7-8), among the heroes of JSU’s OVC tourney run, didn’t survive the first inning Saturday. He gave up five two-out runs, all earned, on four hits with two walks and a hit batsman.
“I think, probably, you could put his struggles on me,” Case said. “He pitched twice for us in the (OVC) tournament, and that’s kind of what we had to do to win the tournament.
“He pitched on three days’ rest (a week ago), and we were very, very hopeful that he would be able to rebound and throw the way that he can. He didn’t. He didn’t throw as well as he can, and that was obvious, and, probably, if there’s blame to put, it should be put on me for as much as I used him last week and bringing him back tonight.”
Ole Miss sent 11 batters to the plate in the first inning, getting RBI hits from Sikes Orvis, J.B. Woodman and nine-hole hitter Errol Robinson.
“It’s a big disappointment the way we got the game going,” Case said. “We wanted to try to get the game going under control, with a big crowd, to kind of be able to settle in, and we fell behind badly early and just really had a hard time stopping them.”
Ole Miss’ biggest hit in the first inning was Orvis’ two-run double that bounced just inside the right-field line. That hit plated the Rebels’ first two runs and gave them the lead for good.
“It kind of ignited us as a team, but I thought it got the crowd into it,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “After that, we played very well.”
Robinson’s single drove in the final two runs of Ole Miss’ first-inning rally.
Orvis was one of four Rebels with multiple hits, finishing 3-for-4 with five RBIs and two runs. He hit a two-out, two-run home run in the sixth inning, sparking a mass beer shower among the crowd behind the center-field fence.
“That was pretty fun to watch out there,” Orvis said. “You try not to think about it, but when you see a big crowd out there, you don’t want to try to go for it, but, if you get one, that’s pretty fun to watch.”
Ole Miss’ Braxton Lee, Auston Bousfield and Austin Anderson each had two hits. Gordon and Andrew Bishop each had two hits for JSU.
The Gamecocks used four pitchers, with reliever Graham Officer working 60 pitches over 2 2/3 innings and Adam Polk throwing 51 in three innings. Third baseman Ryan Sebra worked the final 1 2/3 innings.
JSU will have the option to come back with Fowler, who threw 30 pitches on the night and no doubt wants a second chance. The Gamecocks do pretty well with second chances.
“I don’t think we’ll quit,” Case said “We haven’t been a team that would.
“Our goal has got to be to win one game at a time. We were just there last week, and we were able to do that. This competition will be very, very difficult for us, but who knows? We’ll come out tomorrow morning and figure out how to play again, and that’s the goal.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.