Arizona’s Jay Johnson will attempt to achieve his second College World Series appearance in his sixth season at Arizona, while his counterpart at Ole Miss, Mike Bianco, has traveled a longer, more arduous journey in his 21st season as head coach of the Rebels.
Bianco’s teams have previously appeared in six Super Regionals with only one trip to Omaha, Neb., when Ole Miss beat Louisiana in the Lafayette Super Regional in 2014.
The Rebels (44-20) are now in their seventh Super Regional as they face Arizona (43-15) at Hi Corbett this weekend, starting Friday night at 6 p.m. at Hi Corbett Field.
Johnson coached Arizona to a CWS in his first season of 2016 by beating Mississippi State in the Starksville Super Regional.
Bianco’s team went to extremes to battle its way through the Oxford Regional last week using ace pitcher Doug Nikhazy in relief on Monday in the final game against Southern Miss only two days after he threw 119 pitches. Slugger Tim Elko, playing with a torn ACL, hit two home runs as the Rebels held on to win 12-9 after leading 9-0 after two innings.
“Those are special kids that really care about the program,” Bianco said. “All they want to do is win. They want to win for their teammates, they want to win for their university.”
“We’ve been through a lot,” Elko added. “We’ve had some tough stuff. We’ve let that grow us instead of hurt us. Passed that on to some of the younger guys on our team and got them on board with our culture of we’re never going to quit, we’re never out of a fight. No matter what we go through, you just keep punching back.”
Bianco is going with sophomore left-hander Derek Diamond (3-4, 5.05 ERA) in the opening game of the Super Regional. Johnson has not officially announced his starter, although he will likely go with Chase Silseth, an All-Pac-12 sophomore right-hander who is 8-1 with a 5.53 ERA and leads the team with 93 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings.
Jay Johnson belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Arizona baseball coaches not only for his high level of success in only his sixth season, but the program has featured only four other head coaches — each legendary in their own way — since 1950. https://t.co/w3RLpMW0Tk
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) June 11, 2021
Junior southpaw Garrett Irvin, who pitched a complete-game shutout against UC Santa Barbara last Saturday, is the potential Game 2 starter with freshman right-hander Chandler Murphy the possible Game 3 starter if necessary.
Arizona has the familiarity of playing at spacious Hi Corbett to its advantage.
The Wildcats are No. 2 in the nation in runs with 498 (trailing Wright State, which finished its season with 502). They take advantage of hitting to the gaps of Hi Corbett, which is 366 feet to left, 349 to right, 392 to center field, 410 to left-center and 405 to right-center.
Johnson’s team is 30-7 at Hi Corbett, tying the most wins achieved by the CWS title team of 2012 when they were 30-10 in the program’s first year there after moving from Sancet Field on the Arizona campus.
Johnson avoided extensive conversation of the 100-degree weather and Hi Corbett’s dimension in the power alleys during Thursday’s press conference. He knows Arizona’s lineup and pitching staff has proven itself to handle situations no matter the challenge.
“We’re a team lineup, I mean that in every sense of the word,” Johnson said. “Everybody has a job and that job changes based on the inning, the score, where they hit in that particular inning. Whenever we have a player that we want to improve what they’re doing, we go to work on it.”
🔊@ArizonaBaseball has been one of the best teams in College Baseball this year & will host a Super Regional against @OleMissBSB this weekend@UACoachJ tells @roxybernstein & @RyanDLeaf how the Wildcats used 2020 as motivation coming into this season#BearDown #RoadToOmaha pic.twitter.com/WWLuGW35vZ
— College Sports on SiriusXM (@SXMCollege) June 9, 2021
Arizona has scored at least one run in 167 straight games. The Wildcats have not suffered a shutout loss since falling 1-0 at Washington on March 17, 2017. Their 167-game scoring streak is the longest active scoring streak in the Pac-12.
True freshmen Jacob Berry (15) and Daniel Susac (12) are the first pair of Arizona freshmen to both hit double-digit home runs in program history.
Tony Bullard’s performance of late is indicative of how Arizona has come on strong, winning 11 of its last 13 games and 22 of its last 26. During his current six-game hitting streak, Bullard has posted a .542 batting average with seven runs, two doubles, one triple, four home runs and11 RBIs. He has four multi-hit games and three multi-RBI performances in his hitting streak.
Donta’ Williams has reached base safely in 44 straight games and his defense in center field has been one of the highlights for Arizona in the postseason.
Williams leads the Wildcats with a .488 on-base percentage and Kobe Kato is close behind at .460. Kato is batting .351.
“We put a lot of work in on the offensive side of the ball, the types of at-bats that we want to take, and nobody exhibits that was well as (Kato) does,” said Johnson, who also handles hitting coach duties with Nate Yeskie his pitching coach and Dave Lawn the defensive coordinator.
Volunteer assistant Marc Wanaka, who came with Johnson from Nevada in 2015, helps Johnson with the lineup.
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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