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How the West will be won will be tonight. Maybe.
A couple of Southeastern Conference West teams that could not win a game in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama, last month find themselves on the verge of reaching the College World Series championship series in Omaha, Nebraska, on Saturday.
Arkansas, which went 0-for-2 in Hoover, eliminated SEC West Auburn, 11-1, on Tuesday night in front of 24,636 at Charles Schwab Field to reach a rematch with Ole Miss, which lost an opening round, single-elimination SEC Tournament game and barely got a bid to the NCAA Tournament with the 33rd and last at-large bid for the 64-team field.
Arkansas (45-20) and Ole Miss (39-22) play at 7 p.m. eastern Wednesday on ESPN.
Arkansas, which lost 13-5 to Ole Miss on Monday night, must beat the Rebels to force another game against them on Thursday to reach the championship series. Ole Miss, which is 7-0 in the NCAA Tournament and 2-0 in Omaha, can reach the title series with a win Wednesday night. Should Ole Miss lose, it can advance to the title series with a win Thursday.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco will start senior left-hander John Gaddis (3-1, 4.40 ERA, 1 save, 43 strikeouts, 16 walks, 43 innings) against Arkansas. Gaddis has not started since April 9 against Alabama when he had a no-decision in a 12-10 loss. He allowed four hits and three runs with two walks and two strikeouts in three and two-thirds innings.
After moving to the bullpen, Gaddis has a 2.31 ERA since May 1. On May 1, he threw two and one-third innings of relief at Arkansas in a no-decision as the Rebels lost 4-3. He allowed two hits and no runs with a walk.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said he will start either freshman left-hander Hagen Smith (6-2, 4.85 ERA, 2 saves, 82 strikeouts, 42 walks, 72.1 innings), a regular member of the weekend rotation, or senior right-handed ace Connor Noland (8-5, 3.75 ERA, 106 strikeouts, 34 walks, 108 innings). Noland just started on Saturday, throwing 79 pitches over seven and two-thirds innings for the 17-2 win over Stanford. He allowed six hits and two runs with one walk and a strikeout.
“We could bring back Noland on three days’ rest if we wanted,” Van Horn said after the game Tuesday. “He’s talking to us about it. We could go with Smith. Couple other guys in there, too. Is that what you want to hear?”
Then Van Horn quoted a Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes classic.
“We don’t want to go home,” he said. “We think we can play five days in a row (counting the championship series through Sunday). We’re here until we’re not.”
Texas A&M, one of a record four SEC West teams to reach Omaha, eliminated Notre Dame, 5-1, on Tuesday afternoon in an elimination game. The Aggies (44-19) will play Oklahoma (44-22) at 2 p.m. eastern on Wednesday and must beat the Sooners (2-0 in Omaha) in that game and on Thursday to advance to the championship series.
Oklahoma is the only remaining non-SEC team in the College World Series, and the Sooners will be joining the SEC in 2025.
Oklahoma will start sophomore right-hander David Sandlin (8-4, 5.93 ERA, 90 strikeouts, 30 walks, 88 innings) against a likely committee by Texas A&M, starting with freshman left-hander Ryan Prager (1-3, 4.89 ERA, 50 strikeouts, 24 walks, 57 innings).
Arkansas sophomore right-hander Will McEntire held Auburn to three hits Tuesday night and one run through seven innings for the win to go to 2-2. He struck out nine and walked one.
Chris Lanzilli’s RBI single in the third put the Razorbacks up 2-0 before Robert Moore’s two-run double made it 4-0. Michael Turner hit a two-run double in the fourth for a 6-0 lead, and Lanzilli’s two-run home run made it 8-0 in the inning. Turner added an RBI single in the sixth for a 9-0 advantage.
Arkansas took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Braydon Webb doubled and scored on Peyton Stovall’s single off Auburn starter Mason Barnett, who took the loss to fall to 3-3 after allowing five hits and four runs in two and two-thirds innings. Auburn finished 43-22.
Stovall added a two-run single in the ninth for the 11-1 final.
“Baseball’s a funny game, and whatever it takes” said Van Horn, whose team lost five of its last six games before the NCAA Tournament to lose its chance for a host site in the NCAA Regional round. The Razorbacks have since won seven of nine.
“You never know how this thing’s going to go,” he said. “We’ll do whatever we’ve got to do.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“For all those Ole Miss fans out there that wanted Mike Bianco fired about six weeks ago, they better be figuring out where they’re going to build that statue of him out there in front of that ballpark. That’s kind of where it is right now.”
-ESPN announcer and former LSU pitcher Ben McDonald while broadcasting the Texas A&M-Notre Dame game on Tuesday. McDonald’s catcher at LSU in 1988 and ’89 was Bianco, whose future as Ole Miss’ baseball coach was in doubt after a 7-14 start in SEC play this season.