OMAHA, Neb. -- Will Allen is one of Mississippi’s senior captains. He’s part of the Rebels’ rock-solid defense up the middle, behind the plate as the team’s starting catcher.
In Thursday night’s elimination game against TCU at the College World Series, Allen wasn’t behind the plate – Austin Knight was penciled in. Unfortunately for the Horned Frogs, he was still in the lineup as the Ole Miss designated hitter in his usual clean-up spot. Allen went 3-for-5 with three RBI and scored a run to keep Mississippi alive at least another day in Omaha in a 6-4 win.
Allen started 61 of UM’s 67 games behind the plate entering Thursday, with his other six starts as the DH. After suffering an injury to his throwing arm during the Super Regional in Lafayette, Allen needed a rest from his catching duties.“[Allen] hurt his shoulder in the Super Regional, and with the rest we thought he would be OK,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “But as we got deeper into these games and the throwing -- a lot of people don't realize when you're the catcher, it's not just one throw to second base, it's nine throws to second base in between innings and 150 times back to the mound. So the shoulder has progressively gotten worse. We made a decision [Wednesday] in practice if it wasn't feeling better [Thursday] that we'd go with Knight. But we needed Will's bat in the lineup, so certainly he'd DH.”
An injured shoulder certainly had no impact on his swing and being in the lineup as a DH has proven to be a nice fallback for Bianco and his coaching staff. If anything, the lesser workload helped after Allen had been hitless in his first two games in Omaha. Allen is hitting .429 with four RBI as the team’s DH. Allen certainly doesn’t mind.
“You just have to stay in the game and cheer on your teammates,” Allen said of his role as the DH. “There is a tunnel back there [behind the dugout] that I can go and loosen up and take some swings and all of that as I see my at-bat coming and getting a little bit closer.”
A senior from Gainesville, Florida, he started the scoring in the third inning by lacing a two-out, two-run double into the gap in right-centerfield to give Ole Miss a 2-0 lead. Allen then drove in what proved to be the game-winning run in the seventh inning, ripping a first-pitch offering from Trey Teakell up the middle – almost decapitating the TCU hurler in the process – to give Ole Miss a 5-4 lead.
His team-leading 64th RBI of the season not only gave his team the lead for good, but Allen became the first player to reach the three-RBI plateau in one game at the 2014 CWS, and put him in a tie at the top of the RBI leaderboard with TCU’s Boomer White and UC Irvine’s Taylor Sparks. Once again, the fifth run proved to be the magic number at the College World Series; the last 29 CWS teams to reach five runs in a game have all won.
“We had a good offensive day [Thursday],” Bianco said. “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.”
But Allen wasn’t done. Still leading 5-4 in the top of the ninth inning, he laced a single with two outs. On the next pitch, Sikes Orvis drilled a double down the leftfield line that found the chalk – by a mere inch – and rattled around the corner. Combined, Allen and Orvis went 6-for-10 with five RBI. Orvis was the only one of the two to leave a man on base – just one.
“[Mississippi has] a great club, and I felt like the two veteran guys in the middle of their order, Allen and Orvis did a heck of a job,” TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Five RBI. Probably four of those with two outs, I think. So just as any great tournament comes down to, it always comes down to the two-out hitting and who gets the big hit.”
Ole Miss had its insurance run with one of those big hits, made even bigger in an NCAA tournament that has seen a record 45 one-run games.
Allen’s replacement for the night wasn’t so shabby behind the plate. Knight made a few stellar stops on balls in the dirt, especially during a fourth inning in which UM starter Sam Smith lost the strike zone. Smith walked three, including one with the bases loaded to force in TCU’s second run.
But Knight caught UM’s stellar bullpen, which stepped in for Smith in that fourth inning and included shutdown performances from Josh Laxer, Wyatt Short and Aaron Greenwood. The three combined for 5.2 innings of one-hit, shutout work to go along with six strikeouts. Knight also had a sacrifice bunt in the key third inning, which led to UM’s first two runs.
“I thought [Knight] was tremendous,” Bianco said. “We knew that. He's terrific as a catch and throw guy behind the plate, and probably would have played more except Will has been so terrific -- it's hard to play a game without your four-hole guy.”
On a night that saw the College World Series’ highest-scoring game, Ole Miss needed everything from its cleanup hitter. Allen delivered, even if it was only as the team’s DH.