There will be Southeastern Conference West baseball again on Thursday at the College World Series. But will it be as dramatic as it was Wednesday night?
Arkansas handed Ole Miss its first loss since the SEC Tournament last month with a thrilling, 3-2 win in front of 25,401 at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska, Wednesday night to force a second semifinal round game Thursday for the right to reach the CWS championship series on Saturday.
Arkansas (46-20) and Ole Miss (39-23) will play at 4 p.m. eastern on ESPN2 with the winner playing Oklahoma in the best-of-three national title series beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.
OutKick SEC columnist Trey Wallace has arrived in Omaha and will be covering Thursday’s game and the rest of the College World Series.
Oklahoma (45-22) eliminated Texas A&M, 5-1, on Wednesday afternoon and gets Thursday off.
“So, rather than, ‘Woe is us,'” said Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, whose team had the bases loaded with nobody out and down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth before losing, “how about looking at what a great opportunity we have? I think the thing is to flush this and look forward to an opportunity to win and stay alive and be one of the last two teams competing for a national championship.”
Bianco will also get to throw his ace – junior right-hander Dylan DeLucia (7-2, 4.07 ERA, 98 strikeouts, 86.1 innings) on four days rest. So will Arkansas. That will be senior right-hander Connor Noland (8-5, 3.75 ERA, 108 strikeouts, 106 innings) also on four days rest.
“It shapes up for a really good game,” Bianco said. “If you would have asked me four or five months ago, would you like to have your ace on the mound in a winner-take-all to get to the championship series, everybody would say yes.”
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn is just glad his team made it this far in the double-elimination series after a 13-5 loss to Ole Miss on Monday night.
“Just a great win for our team obviously,” he said. “Back against the wall, and a lot of drama there at the end.”
The Razorbacks scored one to take a 3-1 lead in the top of the eighth in controversial fashion. Cayden Wallace led off with a screaming single down the left field line off reliever Jack Washburn, and he went for second base. He looked very much out at second on a throw from Ole Miss left fielder Kevin Graham, but Wallace was called safe for a double. Ole Miss asked for a review and got one that lasted several minutes as replays showed Wallace’s finger not beating the tag.
But he was called safe, and it proved costly for the Rebels.
Jack Dougherty relieved Washburn and allowed an RBI single to Michael Turner for the 3-1 Arkansas lead and eventual winning run with nobody out.
“That’s why they have replay,” Bianco said. “I saw the board. Again, that’s why we challenged it. We thought that he tagged possibly the finger. But again, they got I think, 22 cameras. And they’ve got people, and they see different views on the board. I don’t think it’s fair for me to comment on a call.”
Dougherty still gave Ole Miss a chance by not allowing any more runs in trouble in the eighth. After a bunt single by Chris Lanzilli, Dougherty got a force out on a bunt by Robert Moore before an intentional walk to Jalen Battles loaded the bases. Then he struck out Brady Slavens and pinch-hitter Kendall Diggs to end the inning.
Kemp Alderman singled to lead off for Ole Miss in the bottom of the ninth, chasing Arkansas reliever Evan Taylor. Brady Tygart relieved Taylor, but he hit Peyton Chatagnier and Hayden Dunhurst back-to-back to load the bases with nobody out.
Zack Morris relieved Tygart and struck out pinch-hitter Hayden Leatherwood for the first out of the inning. TJ McCants then flew out to left fielder Jace Bohrofen, who held on to the ball despite a collision with charging shortstop Jalen Battles.
Justin Bench then drew the Rebels within 3-2 with an infield single, but Morris got Jacob Gonzales to line out to left field to end the game and earn the save.
“It was a crazy feeling,” said Arkansas starter Hagen Smith, who got the win to go to 7-2 with five innings of two-hit, one-run pitching and eight strikeouts. “Nerves were high, but we knew Zack was going to get out of it.”
Arkansas took a 2-1 lead in the top of the fifth on the longest home run in College World Series history since it was moved from Rosenblatt Stadium after the 2010 series. Slavens led off the inning with the solo homer to straight center field at a distance of 436 feet, according to ESPN, off Ole Miss starter John Gaddis.
Ole Miss had tied the game 1-1 with a lead-off home run to left field by Kemp Alderman in the bottom of the second inning off Arkansas starter Hagen Smith. Lanzilli led off the top of the second inning for Arkansas with a home run to left field for a 1-0 lead. Gaddis took the loss to fall to 3-2.
“Tough one to lose,” Bianco said. “But I thought from your perspective and from a fan’s perspective, it was a heck of a college baseball game.”