RALEIGH, N.C.—Five days ago, the Tribe of William and Mary weren’t even sure they would be in the NCAA tournament. But now that they’re here, why not make some noise?
When the regional field was announced on Monday, the featured event in the Raleigh Regional was expected to be a Saturday night showdown between host North Carolina State and No. 2 seed Mississippi. But the third-seeded Tribe would have none of that script, outpitching and outplaying the Rebels on their way to a 4-2 win in the opener on Friday.
It’s already been a historic season for the Tribe, which is making just its third NCAA appearance and its first ever as an at-large team. Now they can add their 38th win of the season, which sets a new school record, and their first NCAA tournament win in program history. It was also just William and Mary’s fourth-ever win against a Southeastern Conference team.
All those bullet points will look great in next year’s media guide. But for first-year head coach Jamie Pinzino, helming a team full of players who are postseason neophytes, the time for his squad to pat itself on the back comes later. There’s more to accomplish this weekend.
“We’re proud of our guys. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Pinzino said. “But hopefully, as we get a chance to continue to play in these games, I think our guys are starting to realize there’s not a whole heck of a lot of time to worry about what records we’re setting or doing this or that.”
The Tribe got all of its offense in what was a disastrous fifth inning for the Rebels. Ole Miss starter Mike Mayers had settled down after some early hiccups and retired eight of nine hitters before a one-out fielding error by third baseman Andrew Mistone allowed Tribe No. 9 hitter Derek Lowe to reach. Then the wheels came off.
Mayers lost the strike zone entirely, repeatedly missing high out of the zone with fastball after fastball, and walked four of the next five hitters, the latter two scoring runs. Another Mistone error plated two more runs, giving the Tribe a 4-0 working margin. That would be all sophomore lefthander Jason Inghram needed.
Inghram got roughed up by Towson in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, allowing 11 earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. But Inghram, typically the Tribe’s Sunday starter, got the ball in the regional opener since the team’s top two starters both threw twice during the CAA tourney. He’s hardly an option of last resort, however, and the sophomore stood and delivered eight strong innings against the Rebels.
Inghram registered just three strikeouts, pitching mostly at 86-88 mph with his fastball, but he mixed his offerings and locations well enough that the Rebels rarely squared him up. He pounded the zone too, allowing only one walk.
“I thought he was able to locate his fastball early in the count, which allowed him to come in later in the count,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “We didn’t have a ton of chances against him, but he made big pitches when we did.”
The Rebels did have their chances, but Inghram was able to buckle down. The Rebels stranded at least one runner in scoring position in five of Inghram’s innings, none bigger than in the seventh, when Ole Miss put men on second and third with one out and their two most dangerous hitters, Stuart Turner and Mistone, coming up. Pinzino stuck with his starter, and Inghram answered the bell, inducing a pair of fly balls that scored one run but limited the damage there.
“Coach has a lot of confidence in the bullpen too,” Inghram said. “At that point, it’s just about continuing to make pitches.”
The Rebels had one more chance in the ninth against Tribe closer Matt Wainman, putting two on base for Turner. But the Rebels’ all-SEC catcher hit a routine fly to left, and the Tribe spilled out of their dugout to celebrate something no William & Mary team had ever done—an NCAA tournament victory.
The Tribe moves into the winners bracket, where it will await N.C. State or No.4 seed Binghamton. The Rebels opted to hold ace Bobby Wahl back for Saturday, an understandable decision since Mayers had pitched well down the sretch. But now instead of pitching to put the Rebels a win away from super regionals, Wahl will go to the mound trying to keep them alive.