Ace Tyler Davis To Start UW’s 1st NCAA Tourney Game In 10 Years

By Gregg Bell
UW Athletics Director of Writing

OXFORD, Miss. –
Fifty-six games. Three and half months.

From the supposed 10th-place team in the Pac-12 to ranked fifth in the country, the highest national spot in program history.

That was the Huskies’ regular season. Their most fruitful one in a decade, in fact.

But this, the first NCAA tournament Washington (39-15-1) has played in since 2004, is now. That makes all of that’s come before this weekend in UW’s remarkable season add up to one, long warm-up act.

“We’ve talked about it all year long: It’s a 56-game season to prepare for this. It’s really, every weekend you are kind of auditioning and working on what to improve – for this,” Pac-12 coach of the year Lindsay Meggs said Thursday following practice indoors at Mississippi’s Olivia and Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center.

“It’s almost a sense of relief to get it over with, to get here. And we expect to play our best baseball from here on out.”

That best will start with Washington’s best: Tyler Davis.

Meggs announced Thursday that the All-Pac-12 right-hander and Louisville Slugger second-team All-American will start Friday's regional opener against Georgia Tech (36-25) at Swayze Field at Oxford-University Stadium.

Davis (10-2, 1.75 ERA) smiled over getting the job in Washington's return to the NCAA tournament, which has a scheduled game time of 1 p.m. Pacific time on espn3.com and on GoHuskies.com with our live game chat plus live scoring. That’s weather permitting: As of Thursday afternoon the forecast was calling for a 50-percent chance of thunderstorms here.

"It's not Opening Day," the determined, aggressive Davis deadpanned with a wry smile, "but I'll take it."

He was first or second in the country in wins for most of this season, until he left a scoreless game one out into the ninth inning of his brilliant, 124-pitch start two weeks ago at top-ranked Oregon State. The Beavers won that game one pitch after Davis left.

In his most recent start last weekend versus UCLA, he carried a 3-1 lead into the ninth then allowed a leadoff single. After 101 pitches, he departed. UCLA rallied to win with five runs later in that ninth.

To Meggs, the reason to open the double-elimination, four-team regional with his ace was two-fold.

"We just feel like on the road, a little different environment for us, and it's important to get on the right foot. He gives us the best chance to throw strikes early in the game and not use our bullpen as much as we might have to otherwise," the Huskies’ fifth-year coach said. "That's going to give us the best chance to have some rested arms the rest of the weekend."

Some around the avidly-followed Ole Miss baseball program here see it as a positive for the hosting Rebels that the regional's second seed is not using Davis against them potentially on Saturday. That assumes both UW and Ole Miss (41-18) win Friday; the Rebels play the nightcap Friday against Jacksonville State (36-25).

Yet Davis could still pitch against the Rebels sometime this unpredictable weekend, if not in the regional final -- because of ominous weather outlooks.

It poured here Wednesday, chasing the Huskies off the Oxford High School field during practice; "scattered flooding," Davis jokingly called it. Thursday it began raining again around 11 a.m. just as UW was supposed to hit on the game field, so the team ended up in the Ole Miss stadium's indoor batting cages. (The Huskies took infield and had pitchers' workouts at the Rebels' equally exquisite indoor football facility, named for the Manning football family that is so prevalent on the Ole Miss campus its speed limits are 18 and 10 – the Rebels jersey numbers of Archie and his son Eli Manning).

Forecasts call for a 50-percent chance of thunderstorms Friday at the 3 p.m. local game time, increasing to 70 percent by 7 p.m.

Saturday afternoon, when UW will play win or lose Friday, there is a 75-percent chance of thunderstorms. Sunday looks like the best weather day, with a high of 87 and a 20-percent chance of rain -- though that forecast says there's a 60-percent chance of rain during the scheduled time for Sunday's potential evening game.

"We are very much OK with this," Meggs said. "Believe me, no one in the four-team field here has played in more rain than we have.

"That’s not going to bother us. In fact, bring it on and let’s play through it."

Point is, the way Davis throws -- pinpoint accuracy, not as hard as it is effective, "Greg Maddux-type," as Meggs described it Thursday -- the red-headed menace could conceivably come back to pitch again this weekend. Especially if the game schedule gets pushed back by rain.

As for when his other starters -- Jeff Brigham (7-3, 2.93) and Jared Fisher (6-4, 4.17) will pitch this weekend Meggs would only say after Davis' start Friday "we'll go from there."

SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY

An eight-ish-year-old kid in Ole Miss cap and T-shirt precociously walks over to a table of four Huskies players. He shows a straw, a long toothpick that came out of his po' boy -- and local wisdom.

The boy expertly blows the toothpick through the straw up into the ceiling tiles, sticking it where hundreds already are. The Huskies roar -- then join in the local tradition, gleefully firing toothpicks skyward at the Ajax Cafe on Courthouse Square in the center of town here.

That's how Washington's baseball team spent Thursday afternoon: At a fun, soul-filled lunch of po' boys, red beans and rice, chicken and dumplings, sweet tea and more at the Ajax. 

Near the end of the meal a local dad approached the seated players and asked them to sing "Happy Birthday" to what appeared to be his college-aged daughter, or at least a relative. The Huskies obliged -- and U-turned Kaylee's initial mortification into a big (albeit red-faced) smile.

Leading hitter Brian Wolfe has proof of the fun.

Relief pitcher Will Ballowe told the story of a mother and her daughter in town for Ole Miss' freshmen summer orientation -- school got out the first week of May here -- greeting him in the Huskies' hotel. The natives asked him all about Washington, its beautiful places, its baseball. Before they parted they ended with what Ballowe saw as an earnest wish of good luck and good time in the regional.

"It's been incredible," he said. "I mean, the people..."

These people are indeed into college baseball.

Each of Ole Miss' home baseball games are listed among art walks, theater productions and gardening socials on Oxford's spring city events calendars posted around town in restaurants and tourist publications. The Rebels' home park where this regional will start with Washington-Georgia Tech Friday at 1 p.m. Pacific time (on espn3.com and gohuskies.com with the live game chat and live stats) has its own Twitter page (@Swayze_CrazyBSB).

There's even a new handle @RFHater, spewing Tweets that poke fun at the visiting teams' right fielders and squads that are coming into Swayze Field to play Mississippi. The terraced grass behind the right-field wall at Swayze is the Ole Miss students' section where (in)famous "Beer Sprays" happen after home runs.

Wolfe, along with the right fielders for Georgia Tech and Jacksonville State, are the prime targets of @RFHater and his Rebels pals. @RFHater and friends posted a picture they found online of Wolfe's girlfriend eating at Seattle's iconic Dick's hamburgers. They kindly posted online the phone number of one of Jacksonville State's outfielders.

Wolfe, by the way, thinks it's a hoot. He's been sharing and even favoriting the tweets.

Thursday’s rain prevented the Huskies from practicing on Swayze Field, which is grass. Officially Oxford-University Stadium, it holds 8,500, has those terraced, grass seats with picnic areas beyond left and right fields and is nicer than many Triple-A professional parks in which I've been.

After they hit inside Ole Miss' nice batting cages under the stadium many Huskies walked into the stadium's lower seating area.

It was cool to see that they thought the whole scene was cool.

"Absolutely," said Meggs, who brought his Indiana State team in here to play a series against Ole Miss about a half-dozen years ago, in his job before UW. "I told our guys, if we aren't going to be playing at home and I was a player, knowing what I know and I got to choose where I could go, this is the place I would want to play. These fans are unbelievable, and they are good baseball people. There is a lot of energy.

"It's like a minor-league baseball town. They really appreciate their baseball. They are really good people.

"The hospitality is off the charts."

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