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Mike Lopresti | | June 23, 2022

How Zach Morris kept his cool in the heart of danger, on short rest, to keep Arkansas baseball alive

Arkansas vs. Ole Miss: 2022 Men's College World Series highlights (Game 1)

OMAHA, Neb. — Arkansas beat Ole Miss 3-2 Wednesday night to force a winner-take-all game for their side of the bracket in the Men’s College World Series. Well, it became a little more complicated than that.
This was just not a ninth-inning jam, this was a five-alarm fire. Bottom of the ninth, Ole Miss down 3-1 but with the bases loaded and nobody out. Survival in Omaha was teetering over a cliff for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Someone had to save the day.
Zack Morris walked in from the bullpen, a junior who had never saved a game in his Arkansas career. Not one. He had started against this same Ole Miss team only two days earlier and did not get out of the first inning, facing seven batters and giving up two quick runs in what would be a 13-5 Razorback loss. “It made me mad. It made me want to come out and do better,” he would say later. He had texted his coach, Dave Van Horn, the next day with a simple request.

I want the ball again.
But like this? With Ole Miss banging on the door and the Arkansas season on the line, and not a millimeter margin for error? The ninth had started with a Rebels single, only their fourth hit of the night. Then Van Horn called for closer Brady Tygart. Standing in the bullpen, Morris was sure Tygart would slam the door. Everyone could start thinking about the next day, when they’d decide who faces Oklahoma in the Championship Series. But. Tygart had no control of his feared breaking ball and promptly hit two batters.
Bases loaded. Ole Miss smelling a knockout punch.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Follow everything from the Men's College World Series here

“All the confidence in my body I had in him,” Morris would say later. “But sometimes baseball doesn’t let it go that way. So whenever that happens, the next guy has to step up.”
And Zack Morris was suddenly the next guy. The crisis was obvious. He makes a mistake, Arkansas loses. He doesn’t throw strikes, Arkansas loses. He blinks, Arkansas loses.
But he walked toward the mound with a free mind, he said later.
“Honestly, I really wasn’t thinking anything. There’s only one thing to do when I go out there; just make pitches. So I tried to remain calm and I thought I did that really well.”
Van Horn was waiting on the mound and later related the brief conversation.
“Hey man, can you do this?”
“Yes, sir.”
“OK, here you go, go get it.”
Morris said later, “That was it, plain and simple. I think that was probably the most calmest I’ve ever been on the mound.”
Huh? With the Razorbacks up to their Woo Pig Sooies in trouble? How could that be?
“Because I know what I’m capable of doing. That’s honestly the only answer I have.”
His teammates were with him. “Everyone in the dugout had faith in him,” said Hagen Smith, the game’s starting pitcher. “Nerves were high, but we knew he was going to get out of it.”
And so, Morris went to work.
First was pinch-hitter Hayden Leatherwood. Morris struck him out. “There’s one,” he said to himself. “I’ve just got to find a way to get two more.”
Next, TJ McCants. He hit a fly to left field that looked harmless enough, except left fielder Jace Bohrofen and shortstop Jalen Battles nearly collided. Bohrofen kept his focus enough to make the catch.
Next, Justin Bench, who hit an infield single, scoring a run to make it 3-2 and leave the bases loaded. So any hit to the outfield would walk it off for the Rebels and send Arkansas careening into the off-season in anguish.
Jacob Gonzalez next. The count went to 2-2 when he lined a ball to left. “As soon as it came off, I knew he didn’t hit it that well,” Morris said. “I was just hoping it wasn’t going to find a hole. Luckily it went right at Jace.”
Bohrofen made the catch. “It’s over,” Morris exhaled to himself. “We’ve got it.”

It took him forever to get off the field. He spent time with his parents and signed a gazillion autographs. He was the Savior of Arkansas.
“Back against the wall and a lot of drama there at the end,” Van Horn said.
It also took other Razorbacks to carry the night, of course. Brilliant pitching by Smith and Evan Taylor, who struck out 12 in eight innings. Brady Slavens hit a ball to Pluto. Actually to the gap between bleachers in dead center. It was measured at 436 feet, unofficially the longest home run ever hit in 11 years of Charles Schwab Field CWS games.
Still, if Morris doesn’t answer the call, there is no Thursday game.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Oklahoma's David Sandlin delivers emotional 12-strikeout performance 

But there will be, and a most compelling one. Connor Noland needed only 79 pitches to get Arkansas into the eighth inning against Stanford earlier in this CWS. Dylan DeLucia went 7.2 innings of four-hit pitching for Ole Miss against Auburn. They now face each other.
Maybe Arkansas has the momentum after Wednesday night. But Ole Miss has spent this month overturning conventional wisdom. This is a crossroads, but they’ve seen those for weeks.
“We’ve been in these situations for a while now,” second baseman Peyton Chatagnier said. “I can’t promise you the outcome of tomorrow’s game, but I can guarantee you we’re not going to be scared, we’re not going to back down. This is nothing new to us.”
Same for his coach. “If you would have asked four or five months ago in February, would you like the opportunity to have your ace on the mound in a winner-take-all game to get you to the Championship Series, everybody would say yes,” Mike Bianco said.

“It’s disappointing, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, a chance to win it. That will take a little time tonight to get over it. But their backs are against the wall, too. They have to win, too.”
It might have been so different. The Rebels might have been already planning for Oklahoma and the Championship Series, if not for that Arkansas guy over there signing all the autographs.

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Division I
Baseball Championship
June 16 - 26, 2023
Charles Schwab Field Omaha | Omaha, NE

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