OMAHA—For Mississippi sluggers Sikes Orvis and Will Allen, it was a sight for sore eyes.
When Ole Miss and Texas Christian showed up at TD Ameritrade Park on Thursday, the flags beyond the center-field fence were still. Not rippling back toward home plate like they did for the first five days of the College World Series.
"As a hitter, the first thing you're looking at is the wind, and unfortunately the first couple days here it was just gusting in," Allen said. " . . . Once we showed up, Sikes was the first person to tell me, 'Look at the flag!' And I definitely took a look."
Orvis could hardly contain his excitement.
|Game At A Glance|
|Turning Point: With the score tied 4-4 in the seventh, TCU reliever Jordan Kipper hit Auston Bousfield to lead off the frame, then surrendered a bloop single down the left-field line to Austin Anderson, bringing the dangerous Will Allen to the plate. Allen hit an 89 mph fastball over the outside corner back up the middle for a single that scored the go-ahead run.
The Hero: Allen and fellow bopper Sikes Orvis had three hits apiece and combined for five RBIs, but we're giving the nod here to Allen, who not only drove in the winning run but contributed a two-run double in the third and a two-out single in the ninth that led to an insurance run.
You Might Have Missed: There were a number of interesting strategic decisions by the two head coaches, but the eighth-inning battle was crucial. The Horned Frogs had the tying run at second base with one out, and Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco elected to intentionally walk Boomer White, boldly putting the go-ahead run on base. The move paid off. Lefthander Wyatt Short struck out lefthanded-hitting Dylan Fitzgerald for the second out, and the Rebels summoned Aaron Greenwood from the bullpen. After a courageous double steal put the go-ahead run in scoring position, Greenwood got Keaton Jones to bounce out to shortstop to end the threat.
"We finally got out there in BP and we were hitting, and the ball was carrying a little bit, so we all got wide-eyed," Orvis said. "The game got going, and when it stayed the same, we were like, 'All right, we can swing tonight.' Then we started having some good at-bats together; a lot of guys got good swings off. Once this offense gets going, man, we're going to be really good one through nine."
Ole Miss was supposed to be the most physical, offensive team in the CWS field, but the Rebels didn't look like it in their first two games, scoring just three runs. They scored twice that number Thursday against an elite TCU pitching staff, winning an entertaining, back-and-forth contest 6-4 to knock the Horned Frogs out of the CWS and advance to the bracket final against Virginia.
Even TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle, who lamented the difficulty of scoring runs after Tuesday's loss to Virginia, enjoyed the brand of baseball played Thursday. His team even produced a home run—a solo blast by Kevin Cron to left-center that tied the game at 4-4 in the fifth inning.
"I felt like when the ball got hit hard, it went out of the ballpark," Schlossnagle said. "When it didn't quite get hit hard enough, it stayed in the ballpark. And that's the way it's supposed to be. There weren't going to be any cheap homers today. But when a guy smoked one—you know, when Will Allen smoked his ball in the gap, it didn't hang up for somebody to catch it. He deserved a double, and Kevin deserved a homer, and that's what college baseball should be."
Free bases still factored heavily into the game—there were a total of nine walks and two hit batsmen, but both teams were able to capitalize on those mistakes by coming up with big hits. Ole Miss struck first with three runs in the third inning, when J.B. Woodman led off with a double (on a ball that was misplayed by center fielder Cody Jones), and the Rebels got an RBI single from Braxton Lee and a two-run double into the right-center gap by Allen.
So often over the last four years in Omaha, a 3-0 lead has felt insurmountable. But with favorable hitting conditions Thursday, TCU was able to rally—with help from four walks in the fourth inning, as Ole Miss starter Sam Smith abruptly lost his control. The Frogs also produced a pair of hits in that frame—a leadoff single by Cron and an RBI double by Boomer White. That rally tied the score at 3-3.
Ole Miss promptly regained the lead in the fifth, taking advantage of back-to-back walks to start the inning. Orvis hit an RBI single to drive in Auston Bousfield, who reached safely three times in the game, getting hit by two pitches and drawing a walk. He scored all three times.
Cron answered with his solo homer in the bottom of the frame, but Ole Miss weathered the blow and punched back a third time. The Rebels took the lead again for good in the seventh on Allen's RBI single up the middle, then added an insurance run in the ninth, as Allen sparked a rally with a two-out single to left and scored on Orvis' double into the left-field corner. The burly duo finished a combined 3-for-10 with five RBIs and a run.
"We did a good job tonight giving up that three-spot that one inning and coming back and answering," Orvis said. "Cron hit that home run, and we answered again. It just shows you how tough this team is, man. It's hard to keep us down. We keep coming."
The Frogs have also shown a propensity throughout the postseason to keep coming—they rallied late to beat Pepperdine in the super regional clincher, they rallied late to beat Texas Tech in their Omaha opener, and they won a pair of extra-inning games against Siena and Sam Houston State in the regional. But the Frogs couldn't get anything going in the final four innings Thursday against Mississippi's stellar bullpen.
The Rebels can give opponents a variety of different looks in the 'pen, and they are deep enough to withstand a short start like they got from Smith on Thursday. Power-armed righty Josh Laxer worked a scoreless sixth, and lefthander Wyatt Short followed with 1 2/3 hitless innings, mixing a low-90s fastball with a 76-80 breaking ball. Aaron Greenwood took over in the eighth and retired the last four hitters in order.
"I really think (the bullpen is) maybe the difference in our season the last maybe six weeks of the year," Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. "We went from just relying on one guy at the end to kind of the guy of the day. You saw a bunch of them today from Laxer to Short, and Greenwood at the end. (Scott) Weathersby, (Jeremy) Massie, all of those guys have been huge parts of the bullpen. It seems every game, one of those guys steps up and does a great job. Today we needed all of them."
With that bullpen and an offense that suddenly looks lively again, Ole Miss isn't likely to go down quietly against Virginia.