OLEMAHA, Neb. -- Facing its second win-or-go-home game of the 2014 College World Series, Ole Miss took survive-and-advance to an art form.
Thursday night’s nip-tuck affair with TCU was the epitome of doing enough to win as the Rebels eliminated the Horned Frogs 6-4 -- the first game in Bracket 2 that was not decided by one run.
Ole Miss took a 3-0 lead in the third inning only allow three in the fourth frame as TCU sent a 2014 CWS-high nine hitters to the plate. However, the Rebels took a 4-3 lead in the fifth yet yielded a run in the bottom of the inning.
Two innings later UM tipped the seesaw in its favor before adding an insurance run in the ninth.
“We’re fortunate we got some timely hits, and that’s what this comes down to -- getting good hits with runners on, and we were able to do that,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “On the other side of the ball, we made pitches to get out of the innings.
“We had a good offensive day [Thursday]. I thought we had some better at-bats, and it shows you [that when the] wind is not blowing in 20 miles an hour, it’s a little different here. But we were able to barrel some balls up and get some hits.”
Through 27 innings at the CWS, Ole Miss has had multiple base runners in an inning nine times and has scored in seven of those innings, including four of five frames on Thursday night. Will Allen and Sikes Orvis, the Rebels’ Nos. 4-5 hitters were a combined 6-for-10 with one run scored and five RBI; they left only one runner on base."You know, especially with Allen and Orvis, those guys are veteran hitters, and you have to be able to execute pitches to get them out,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “But like anybody else, when you leave the ball in the middle of the plate or leave it in the area which we can't pitch to those guys, they're going to make you pay for it, and that's what a good hitter does.”
Ole Miss used four pitchers to subdue TCU, which entered the game hitting .238 in the NCAA tournament. The Horned Frogs were 5-for-31 -- 0-for-9 with two outs -- on Thursday night and were stymied with runners in scoring position, going 1-for-8 overall and 0-for-2 with the bases loaded.
“Just as any great tournament comes down to, it always comes down to the two-out hitting and who gets the big hit,” Schlossnagle said. “We set the table a couple times and Derek [Odell] smoked a ball that was run down, and we had other opportunities, [it] just wasn't meant to be.”
UM starter Sam Smith worked 3.1 innings -- tied for the shortest stint by a starting pitcher in this year’s CWS -- followed by Josh Laxer, Wyatt Short and Aaron Greenwood. (Coincidentally, TCU starter Tyler Alexander also lasted only 3.1 innings.)
The Rebels’ bullpen allowed only one hit, one run, three walks and struck out six in 5.2 innings with Laxer picking up the win and Greenwood the save.
“I know the second guy [Laxer] came in and was a little wild, it gave us an opportunity to get our pitch because he wasn't commanding both sides of the plate,” TCU’s Boomer White said, who was 2-for-3, including a double, a walk, a run scored and an RBI. “But when they brought in their lefty [Shorter] and their closer [Greenwood], they did a great job of pitching down in the zone, throwing pitches or multiple pitches for strikes.
“It was tough for us to really barrel-up balls,” White said. “We only had five hits, six hits, so they did a good job with that. They gave us opportunities putting runners on, and like coach said earlier, we couldn't capitalize when we needed to.”
Bianco noted that Ole Miss’ approach to its bullpen changed during the final six weeks of the regular season. “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 [Thursday] 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,” he added. “[Thursday] we needed all of them. We had that bad fourth inning where we couldn't get the ball into the strike zone. I felt they had some hits, but certainly four walks in one inning. … you're not going to get out of it without some runs.
“I thought Laxer did a great job minimizing and getting out it of it with one run, and the bullpen held it from there.”
Timely hitting, solid pitching and error-free defense was the Rebels’ calling card again Thursday night. Now UM will face Virginia at 8 p.m. ET Friday. Again with its back to the wall, Ole Miss faces elimination and it has given the remaining three teams a good look at what it will take to beat this team -- fend off the pitchers and, maybe more importantly, minimize the innings in which Ole Miss has multiple base runners.
The only question: Will any team out-survive-and-advance Bianco’s boys?