OMAHA, Neb. — So what now? Four teams are left in the Men’s College World Series, and there are scenarios galore for the final acts in Omaha.
For instance, maybe there’ll actually be a close game. So far in 2022, no rain in Omaha and no ninth inning drama. Remember when the discussion was how open this tournament looked, how closely together everyone was packed? Then why have the first 10 games been decided by a combined score of 93-27? It’s been 71-16 after six innings. No game has ended with the losing team closer than four runs, which has never happened before.
Maybe the champion will be someone not from the SEC. That’d have to be Oklahoma, the last non-member standing. If this were 2024, the entire final four would be 100 percent SEC. As it is, the league is guaranteed a spot in the finals for the 13th time in the past 14 MCWS. The SEC is as annual a sight in late June in Omaha as the summer solstice. Maybe this will explain how good that conference is: Arkansas and Ole Miss will now meet for a spot in the College World Series finals. They went a combined 0-3 in the SEC tournament.
“I think playing those 10 SEC weekends with no breaks there, if you can withstand that, if you don’t get buried . . . you can do anything,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Follow everything from the Men's College World Series here
Perhaps it’ll be a team that was seeded in the top-16 for the NCAA tournament. Aren’t they supposed to win? But it’ll have to be Texas A&M, the only seeded team still in town.
Maybe the last team put in the tournament field ends up the last team standing. Ole Miss. You could argue that would be the biggest championship surprise package since Coastal Carolina in 2016. The Rebels haven’t lost in a month, and the most compelling number going into these final days of the CWS is their 7-0 record in the NCAA tournament by a combined score of 64-17.
Maybe it’ll be Arkansas. Somehow, the Razorbacks could be the poster team for a College World Series that so far has featured blowouts and unsung heroes. They have won by 15 runs, lost by 8, and won by 10. They have scored 33 runs in three games.
They have the hottest hitter in town, even if he was batting eighth in the batting order until Tuesday night. Freshman Peyton Stovall has 10 RBI in this CWS and is 9-for-16 after five hits Tuesday, when coach Dave Van Horn had seen enough and pushed him up to the second spot. “The game kind of tells you want to do every now and then,” Van Horn said.
Stovall had some early-season struggles, partly a product, Van Horn said, of lavish expectations put upon him. Stovall was the phenom who turned down the major league draft — and maybe $2 million — to be a Razorback.
“He wanted to go to college, and he just felt a lot of pressure,” Van Horn said. “Social media and everything else, and you read preseason this, preseason that. It’s hard putting that on kids that haven’t even seen a college arm yet.”
🎩: The numbers behind Ole Miss' magical run
But now a lot of college arms in Omaha haven’t been able to get Stovall out.
“Just relaxing and having fun has been the message we’ve stuck with during this postseason run. If we keep doing that, then good things will happen,” he said. “Confidence is the No. 1 word to describe this team right now.”
Arkansas also presented one of the more striking cases of perseverance Tuesday night with pitcher Will McEntire. He arrived on campus for the COVID-gutted 2020 season, missed all of 2021 and won one game this season. He wasn’t even traveling with the team early. In April, he had to lobby his head coach and pitching coach for a chance. But Tuesday night was a moment he had waited for his entire young career, striking out nine Auburn hitters while giving up a run and three hits in seven innings. He blew away six Tigers in a row in the early innings; 25 pitches, 11 swings and misses.
“He left it all out there,” Stovall said.
“I think wherever (Arkansas catcher Michael) Turner put his glove, that’s where the ball was going. He had really good command and didn’t make as many mistakes as a starting pitcher usually does,” said Auburn’s Brody Moore.
“I knew I could throw strikes and I trusted myself,” McEntire said of his decision to ask for a shot in the spring. Still, from sitting in his pitching coach’s office pleading for innings to shutting down Auburn in the College World Series?
“I honestly never saw myself here.”
Yeah, that package could work for a storyline, especially for a program that has been here 10 times before and is still searching for a championship. This year, it’s on the long road of the loser’s bracket. That would fit an unconventional College World Series. “We don’t want to go home,” Van Horn said. “We think we can play five days in a row. We like it. We’re here until we’re not.”
But maybe it’ll be the Ole Miss arms. The Rebels have allowed four earned runs in two games, struck out 21 and walked two.
REDEMPTION: 96-hour tale of redemption for Nathan Dettmer, Texas A&M's hero on Tuesday at the MCWS
Or Oklahoma’s relentless attack. The Sooners have 23 hits, 19 of them singles. They just keep the line moving.
Or Texas A&M’s penchant for endlessly prolonging at-bats. The Aggies’ games have gone 3:57, 4:02 and 3:30. They are a concession stand’s delight.
Maybe it’ll be Van Horn as the winning coach. He has brought seven Arkansas teams to Omaha.
Or Jim Schlossnagle in his first run at Texas A&M.
Maybe Mike Bianco, who was actually under fire from some Ole Miss fans during the Rebels’ mid-season swoon. But not anymore.
Or Skip Johnson, who has his Oklahoma team playing fearlessly and in full-blown attack mode. That trophy would make a nice bookend with the women’s softball title.
The finals are now close enough for all of them to see, and the chance to get there comes within the next 48 hours.
“We’re all hired for a reason and that’s to get here and win here,” Schlossnagle. “That’s easier said than done. You don’t just get to throw money at something and twinkle your nose and have it happen.”
No, it’ll take good play and unending persistence and maybe some luck. Might even take a close game. That would be refreshing.