OMAHA—If this was John Gatlin’s only at-bat of the College World Series, he made it count. The Mississippi fifth-year senior had just 29 at-bats all season and none during the NCAA tournament, but called upon to pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth inning against Texas Tech, Gatlin authored perhaps the signature moment in what’s been a historic season for the Rebels program.
After falling behind the Red Raiders’ Dominic Moreno 1-2, Gatlin reached out and got the end of his bat on a down-and-away breaking ball, hitting it just hard enough to get over the drawn-in infield and bring in the winning run from third, lifting the Rebels to a 2-1 win and extending their stay in Omaha at least two more days.
|Game At A Glance|
|Turning Point: Little-used Mississippi senior John Gatlin delivered one of the tournament’s feel-good moments. Playing just days after the passing of his grandmother, Gatlin’s walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth—just his fourth base hit of the season—won it for the Rebels. “(Assistant) coach (Cliff) Godwin asked me if I needed to go home. And I said, ‘Are you kidding me? She’d kill me if I came home right now.’ But, yeah, game’s on the line like that—so much going through your head—and she was definitely part of it.”
The Hero: Ole Miss lefty Christian Trent pitched brilliantly with his team facing elimination for the second straight start. He did it in super regionals against Louisiana-Lafayette and shone again in Omaha, tossing eight shutout innings while allowing six hits and only one walk. Trent lowered his ERA in the NCAA tournament to 0.47.
You Might Have Missed: The guy who scored the winning run for Ole Miss? None other than pitcher Aaron Greenwood, who had come in to pinch-run for Colby Bortles. It was a turnabout for Greenwood, who two nights earlier gave up a walk-off double to Virginia’s Mike Papi.
“We’ve done that throughout the entire season,” Gatlin said. “One through 27 contributes each week in some form or fashion. And coach (Mike) Bianco does a great job making sure late in the game when it’s getting tight like that, ‘Be swinging, get your legs loose and be ready to go.'”
But although the afternoon was punctuated by offense, it was defined—as is almost always the case in TD Ameritrade Park—by pitching.
The Rebels turned to sophomore Christian Trent, their No. 2 starter all season long. Trent starred in a similar situation in super regionals, throwing seven innings of one-run ball against powerful Louisiana-Lafayette, but he’s also been a consistent performer, allowing two runs or less in 11 of his last 12 starts.
“I said it in the pregame in a couple of interviews, he’s been our Saturday starter,” Bianco said. “We call Saturday the swing game, and how important that is in a weekend series, where you either won on Friday and you clinch the weekend on Saturday, or you lose on Friday and he wins and evens the series up. He’s done that all year long. He’s undefeated. He hasn’t had a bad outing all year long even in the games he hasn’t won and he’s gotten no decisions. He’s been terrific. I think our guys have that confidence—even though we lose the first game—I don’t know if there’s another better guy in the country to run out there in game two than Christian.”
Trent normally takes some time to get his secondary pitches going, but he found a rhythm early on Tuesday, working in his slider and changeup to go with his 88-91 mph fastball. Having his three-pitch mix on point early allowed him to bear down whenever the Red Raiders threatened him. TTU put men in scoring position in four of the first six innings, but Trent was able get out of Dodge every time.
“It’s more of a mindset that you have to lock things down when they get runners on, especially in scoring position,” Trent said. “It’s time to make the pitches and focus a lot harder on what you’re doing. It’s a little bit of a tighter window when you’re throwing into the glove, and I just felt like I was able to use all three pitches when I needed to.”
Trent finished his afternoon throwing eight shutout innings, his second-longest outing of the season. He struck out six, four of them on his slider, and walked only one. Problem was, his opposite number was just as good.
The Red Raiders pulled a mild surprise in starting righty Ryan Moseley against Ole Miss, rather than usual No. 2 starter Dylan Dusek. Moseley, a freshman, spent most of the season as a reliever and had made just four starts. But he’d also shown he could pitch well in big moments, having worked six scoreless innings against Miami in regionals in his last start.
Bianco said the Rebels expected Moseley would be good. They didn’t know he’d be this good.
Moseley came out pumping nasty 89-92 mph fastballs with all kinds of late sink and arm-side run. He mixed in the occasional slider, but for the most part he was able to stonewall the Rebels with one pitch. Just two of the Rebels’ first 18 hitters reached base, and Ole Miss didn’t get a runner past second until the seventh. Moseley ended up working 7 1/3 innings, easily surpassing his previous career-long outing of six.
“We knew that it would be a big challenge,” Bianco said. “But the fastball was so hard and had a lot of depth to it. I don’t know if we realized it would sink where it would be a swing-and-miss. We swung through more fastballs today than I can ever remember the entire season, and so it was hard. Just kept sinking and then you look up at the Jumbotron and see just the action of it. There are times I thought it was a slider, and you look up and it’s 92.”
The only way either team was going to score was if it got some help. And the Rebels were the one to get some.
Ole Miss broke the scoreless draw in the bottom of the seventh, an error and a walk setting up pinch-hitter Holt Perdzock’s RBI single that just stayed inside the third-base bag. The Red Raiders equalized in dramatic fashion in the top of the ninth, as pinch-runner Zach Davis stole second and third base and scored on a sac fly.
However, much like in Saturday’s loss to Texas Christian in which they took and then lost a late lead, the Red Raiders’ momentum proved to be short lived. Texas Tech was its own worst enemy again in the ninth, as a walk and then a critical throwing error on pitcher Cameron Smith on what could’ve been an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play put men on the corners with one away.
Dalton Dulin was the scheduled hitter to face the lefty Smith. Although Dulin is ostensibly a switch-hitter, he has primarily stuck to hitting lefthanded in the second half, so Bianco wanted to make a move.
“It was one of those where we knew that we had to make a change,” Bianco said. “We knew that if we made the change, (Texas Tech) would bring in the righthander . . . We thought (pinch-hitting) was our best option. Certainly we wanted Gatlin in there to face the lefthander.
“They bring the righthander (Moreno) in, and like we said, ‘Just hit it somewhere, John.’ ”
“Somewhere” wasn’t very far, but it was more than far enough.