Blaise Biringer felt a sense of comfort Sunday when she saw Ole Miss placed in the Tucson Regional while watching the NCAA tournament selection show on ESPN2.
She was with her Rebel teammates in Oxford, Miss., which is almost 1,500 miles from where she was raised in Nogales.
Her team was elated to make the tournament at Hillenbrand Stadium as an at-large SEC team.
Her mind was on home and her former Oro Valley Sun Cats teammate Carlie Scupin, a Tucson High graduate and Arizona freshman first baseman.
“When I saw Arizona on our bracket, I was so excited that I get the opportunity to go back home and be in my area and in my environment that I’m used to,” Biringer said in a phone interview from Oxford this week. “I think I was also excited that my family could come out and watch and I can be with my old club teammates.
“Being able to play against my best friend Carlie Scupin and having (Ironwood Ridge grad) Izzy Pacho and (former Sun Cats teammate) Alayna Hicks there, it’s just so exciting. I get to see my old friends again. I’ve missed them so much.”
Ole Miss (34-20) will likely get a chance of playing Arizona at Hillenbrand this weekend. The Rebels open with Villanova on Friday at 3 p.m. No. 11 Arizona plays Maryland-Baltimore County at 5:30 p.m.
The double-elimination bracket continues Saturday and Sunday with the winner headed the following week to the Super Regional, potentially at No. 6 Arkansas.
Biringer, a freshman second baseman with the Rebels who graduated from Cienega last year, has played at Hillenbrand before, two years ago when she was with the Sun Cats.
She anticipates her immediate family can attend this weekend although plenty more want to be there. She has received text messages galore from many friends and former teammates and coaches at Cienega and with the Sun Cats.
“It’s so much fun,” Biringer said. “I love getting phone calls from old teammates of mine and even coaches from Cienega were excited and coach Todd (Judge) from Sun Cats has text messaged me. I’m excited I’m actually coming home and how fun it will be to have them watch me again. It’s so exciting.”
Biringer has long been sold on the Ole Miss program, committing her freshman season at Cienega. She kept her desire to play for the Rebels after former head coach Mike Smith was fired in 2019 following the Rebels’ loss to Arizona in the Super Regional final at Hillenbrand.
“It was home away from home the moment I stepped on the campus,” Biringer said of visiting Oxford for the first time four years ago. “I felt like it was the place for me. I was able to meet a lot of girls on the team (including former Tucsonan and Ole Miss pitcher Brittany Finney), and they told me that they would take me under their wing. I just loved it here.”
Jamie Trachsel took over the program last season after coaching at Minnesota for three years and she coveted Biringer from the start.
“We’ve had a coaching change since my senior year (at Cienega) and it’s been nothing but great,” Biringer said. “I’ve learned so much through these coaches, these new coaches. Having a hitting coach (Katie Rietkovich Browder) that really cares about you, and especially our head coach Jamie, she cares about you as an individual and not just the number on your back — that has been really great for me.”
Biringer has the most at-bats (174) among the Rebels and she is second on the team with a .322 batting average. She has five doubles, five triples and two home runs and has produced 21 RBIs in 54 games (51 of them starts).
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“She’s been great, and she continues to get better,” Trachsel told 247Sports.com. “She’s been pretty consistent in her execution and has just overcome the adrenaline and excitement that comes with playing in this conference and the level of softball that comes with this conference day in and day out.
“It’s her freshman year. She’s being thrown in with the understanding that she’s capable of executing and doing it consistently. She’s handled it well. She’s been open and listens to the communication with the coaching staff. She’s moving in the right direction. Without a doubt, she’s been instrumental on this team the whole year, and that’s the truth of it. “
Cienega coach Eric Tatham said this week that Biringer is “the most mature player that we’ve ever had,” which means he believes his former star infielder will not be adversely affected by potential distractions of family and friends leading up to Friday’s game with Villanova.
The Rebels are flying into Tucson on Wednesday and will practice at Hillenbrand on Thursday.
“She just goes about her business, she takes care of business, right from the start,” Tatham said. “She’s been like that since I met her as a freshman. I think out of anybody coming back and being able to handle the hometown crowd, it’ll be her.”
Biringer was part of Tatham’s state championships teams in 2017 and 2018. She played in only seven games last spring with the Bobcats before COVID-19 cut the season short. She was batting .720 with a slugging percentage of 1.120 at the time.
She batted a .450 average as a junior with eight doubles, six triples and four home runs with 19 RBIs and 17 stolen bases.
“She is able to handle things very well mentally, but her talent is the way it is because of her hard work and dedication,” Tatham said. “I mean, she’s always on the field, always taking extra cuts, always running when other kids aren’t always doing that. It is a testament to her hard work for why she’s where she’s at.”
Biringer is a psychology major at Ole Miss, so she understands the mentality of preparing for the weekend ahead at Hillenbrand, not only because it’s a homecoming but also it his her first postseason as a college player.
“I think for me, it’s just keeping everything simple and just not letting the environment take over,” Biringer said. “I am appreciative that I can have this opportunity. I will keep the game simple and not really overthink things and be nervous.
“Of course, I am going to be nervous, but it will be more of an excitement. I will keep everything simple and trust my abilities.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District