Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Survival mode: Hogs douse late rally, force decisive game with Ole Miss
Arkansas players celebrate following a 3-2 victory over Ole Miss at the College World Series on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in Omaha, Neb.
OMAHA, Neb. — Zack Morris got a big measure of redemption and a clutch save at the same time on Wednesday to keep the Arkansas Razorbacks alive at the College World Series.
Morris survived a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the bottom of the ninth inning to propel the University of Arkansas to a 3-2 win over Ole Miss and set up a one-game showdown today for a spot opposite Oklahoma in the CWS finals.
Arkansas will send ace right-hander Connor Noland (8-5, 3.75 ERA) to the mound against Ole Miss right-hander Dylan DeLucia (7-2, 4.07) in today’s 3 p.m. Bracket 2 final at Charles Schwab Field.
“Just a great win for our team obviously,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “Back against the wall and a lot of drama there at the end.”
A mixed crowd of 25,401 strong attended the game, the highest attendance for a CWS game since the Razorbacks helped draw 26,155 for their 2019 series opener against Florida State.
The Razorbacks (46-20) were fueled by a strong start from freshman Hagen Smith, a solo home run by Chris Lanzilli and a monster shot by Brady Slavens to deal Ole Miss (39-23) its first loss in eight NCAA Tournament games.
“Tough one to lose, but I thought … from a fan’s perspective, it was a heck of a college baseball game,” Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco said. “Well played on both sides and certainly well pitched, on a day where I thought maybe the ball was flying a little bit better than it normally does here, so it will tell you how good all the guys that touched the mound pitched today.”
Smith (7-2), Evan Taylor and Morris, a trio of left-handers, headlined the Arkansas pitching efforts.
Morris had been roughed up for two runs in two-thirds of an inning in his start against the Rebels on Monday, as he suffered his first loss of the year in a 13-5 setback. On Wednesday, he posted his first save of the season after entering with Rebels on every base and Arkansas leading 3-1 with no outs.
Kemp Alderman led off the inning with his third hit of the night, an opposite-field single to right field off Taylor, only his second hit allowed in three innings. When Brady Tygart hit Peyton Chatagnier with a pitch, the Rebels had a runner in scoring position for the first time all night.
Tygart also hit Hayden Dunhurst, who was trying to bunt, to load the bases and bring on Morris.
The left-hander struck out pinch-hitter Hayden Leatherwood for the first out. He induced a pop fly to left field from TJ McCants on which left fielder Jace Bohrofen and shortstop Jalen Battles collided as Bohrofen secured the catch.
Leadoff batter Justin Bench came through with an RBI infield single to draw the Rebels within a run at 3-2. Battles made a strong play deep in the hole to keep Bench’s ball from reaching the outfield and bringing in the tying run.
Jacob Gonzalez hit a soft liner to left field for the final out, and the Razorbacks celebrated a win in the first game decided by less than four runs in the first dozen games at the CWS.
“Everyone in the dugout had faith in him,” Smith said of Morris. “Nerves were high, but we knew he was going to get out of it.”
Smith and Ole Miss lefty John Gaddis (3-2) hooked up in a solid pitcher’s duel for the first five innings, with Smith and the Razorbacks leading 2-1.
Smith exited after throwing 90 pitches and allowing a run on 2 hits and 4 walks while striking out 8.
Smith recorded all eight of his strikeouts in succession, with a couple of walks and a single mixed in, from the second through the fourth innings.
“My mental approach today was just throw the ball over the plate, just throw strikes because I know I’ve got to throw strikes to give us a chance,” said Smith, who threw more sliders than normal to pair with a lot of fastballs and a few change-ups.
“I thought Hagen Smith did a tremendous job tonight, gave us five really good innings, gave up a couple hits, struck out eight,” Van Horn said.
Gaddis allowed 2 runs, both on homers, on 4 hits and 2 walks with 4 strikeouts on 81 pitches.
Arkansas center fielder Braydon Webb notched his fourth game-opening hit at the CWS, a ringing double over left fielder Kevin Graham, but this time he didn’t score after the quick opener.
The Razorbacks took the lead on Chris Lanzilli’s solo home run just over the left field wall to open the second inning.
It didn’t take long for the Rebels to match it. The designated hitter Alderman hit a shot over the left-field wall leading off the bottom of the second as the equalizer.
Both lefties matched zeroes in the third and the fourth before Slavens got to work.
The left-handed Slavens, dropped to the eight hole in the lineup on Tuesday, hammered a Gaddis pitch 436 feet to dead center field, the longest recorded home run in the CWS at Schwab Field since the series moved here in 2011.
“It was 1-0, and I was just looking for a fastball over the plate,” Slavens said. “Luckily I got it. It might be the furthest one I’ve ever hit, I’m not sure.”
Smith and Taylor maintained the 2-1 lead through seven innings before the Razorbacks scratched across one more run and almost had to regret not getting more.
Cayden Wallace led off the eighth with a double off the glove of third baseman Garrett Wood on which his head-first slide just beat the tag of second baseman Peyton Chatagnier.
Michael Turner found a hole on the left side just off shortstop Jacob Gonzalez’s glove for an RBI single, his fifth of the CWS, to plate Wallace and make it 3-1.
“Really it was the huge hit by Turner,” Bianco said was the key to the inning. “We pinched Gonzalez, and obviously that wasn’t a good thing. Turner ends up hitting one to the 6 hole right off Gonzo’s glove.”
Lanzilli laid down a perfect bunt toward third base to give the Razorbacks two runners with no outs and Robert Moore bunted them both into scoring position.
However, after the Rebels issued an intentional walk to Jalen Battles, Jack Dougherty rebounded to strike out Slavens. Van Horn called on pinch hitter Kendall Diggs, who had stroked a walk-off three-run homer off Dougherty in a 6-3 Arkansas win on April 30, and this time Dougherty won the battle with a strikeout.
Arkansas leads the season series against Ole Miss, but DeLucia outdueled Noland in the Rebels’ 4-2 series-opening win on April 29 at Baum-Walker Stadium. DeLucia got the win to improve to 4-0, working 7 innings and allowing 2 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks, striking out 9 and throwing 68 strikes on 105 pitches. Noland threw 68 strikes on 103 pitches through 8 innings, picking up the loss while allowing 4 runs on 11 hits and 4 walks and striking out 3.
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