OMAHA, Neb. – His name is Ethan Small, a redshirt sophomore pitcher for Mississippi State, and this is what we know about him.
He was born on Valentine’s Day, in Jackson, Tenn. – the same hometown as Ed “Too Tall” Jones and the guy who wrote “Silence of the Lambs.”He wore size 11 shoes in the third grade.
He missed all of 2017 with Tommy John surgery.
In a College World Series with lots of runs and lots of long games, he worked seven scoreless and very brisk innings last Saturday against Washington, allowing four hits and walking nobody. One of the best shut-down jobs of the week.
Standing in the outfield during the Bulldogs’ batting practice Friday, he was nailed by a ball inside his left elbow. His pitching elbow. But he’s fine. “It’s unbelievable. I don’t even know what to say,” his coach Gary Henderson would mention later.
Anything else we should know? Oh, right. Small now is the one standing on the tracks waiting for the Oregon State locomotive to come through. The Bulldogs’ season – banana and all – is in his hands.
It’s winner-take-all now in bracket 1 of the College World Series, with a spot in the finals on the line Saturday. This is the menace he’ll be facing:
An Oregon State team that has scored 43 runs in four CWS games, including a 12-2 crunching of Mississippi State Friday. The Beavers are only the second team in history – and the first since Cal State Fullerton 23 years ago – to score 11-plus runs in three consecutive World Series games.
Backs against the wall. LETS RIDE— Ethan Small (@E7hanS) June 22, 2018
An Oregon State lineup that is hitting .377 in Omaha, with 19 extra-base hits.
A confident opponent that believes the hits will just keep on coming. Eleven different Beavers have driven in runs in four CWS games. “We’ve got the best lineup in the nation,” outfielder Steven Kwan said. “Once it gets rolling, it can’t be stopped.”
Or can it?
The young man who must try to do it didn’t seem unsettled Friday evening, sitting on a couch in the Mississippi State locker room, with 24 hours or so of waiting in front of him.
“They can swing it just as good as any team here. I don’t think they’re incredibly special,” Small began about Oregon State. “We put them on 11 times for free today (nine walks, two hit batters). You start looking at that, they should have scored as many runs as they did.”
The task ahead, he said, is pretty straightforward. “Throwing strikes, throwing off-speed for strikes. I think there’s comfort in knowing that if I do that, I’ll get them out.
“They’re a good offensive team but I’m not intimidated by them at all. If I go out there and do what I do, I’ll be fine.”
So Ethan Small’s intentions are to keep an even keel. Whether it be getting nailed by a line drive in batting practice . . .
“Someone said `heads up,’ I turned and it just popped me on the inside. The initial reaction was, `Oh crap.’ it kind of hurt. But I’m good.
Gary Henderson says they're planning on Ethan Small pitching tomorrow. "It's a freak accident," but he seems to be fine. Just took a hard shot that hurt a lot at the moment.— Bob Carskadon (@bobcarskadon) June 22, 2018
“I’ve played baseball a long time. Getting hit by balls is a pretty common thing.”
Or facing the biggest start of his college career . . .
“I think this is what you dream of. When I was kid I would have paid whatever amount of money to be in this situation, with my back against the wall, with the ability to go out and win a game. Having that opportunity is really special, and I’m going to try to make the most of it.”
Besides, this on-the-brink stuff is old news for a Mississippi State team that has been beating the odds and coming from behind all season.
“We always make jokes about we never do it the easy way. And we don’t,” Small said.
Down the way at his locker, teammate Elijah MacNamee agreed.
“It’s baseball, you’re not going to win every game. The College World Series is not supposed to be easy. They’ve got a very good ballclub over there offensively, and so do we; we just didn’t show it today."
"We’re going to come out and we’re going to do what we’ve been doing. We’re here for a reason. We’re not afraid to battle when it’s needed.”
And it’s certainly needed now.
“They have no idea what’s coming tomorrow,” MacNamee said. “This has been us all year.”
Henderson mentioned the old adage that momentum in baseball is tomorrow’s starting pitcher. “We’re big believers in that,” he said. Meanwhile, tomorrow's starting pitcher sat calmly on a couch, explaining again what happened in batting practice.