Hogs win exciting game over Ole Miss from Otis Kirk

Razorback junior pitcher Zack Morris (#32) from Cabot, AR throws a strike 
against Ole Miss Wednesday night at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, NE.

By Otis Kirk

Arkansas defeated Ole Miss 3-2 on Wednesday night with Zack Morris one of the stars in the victory.

The Razorbacks had to hang on in the bottom of the ninth to get the win. Leading 3-1, Evan Taylor gave up a single to Kemp Alderman to start the inning. Dave Van Horn went to the bullpen and brought in Brady Tygart. Arkansas’ closer most of the season just didn’t have it on this night. He faced two batters, Peyton Chatagnier and Hayden Dunhurst, and hit both of them to load the bases with no outs.

Van Horn then opted to bring in Morris, who struggled on Monday night when he started against the Rebels. This time, Morris delivered in a big way. He fanned pinch hitter Hayden Leatherwood for the first out. Then TJ McCants hit a pop up into shallow left field that Jace Bohrofen caught despite colliding with shortstop Jalen Battles. Justin Bench then hit a grounder between third base and shortstop. Battles fielded it, but had no play. Alderman scored to pull the Rebels to within the one run and the bases still loaded. However, Morris got Jacob Gonzalez to pop up to Bohrofen in left field allowing the Razorbacks to escape with the victory. Morris picked up his first save of the season.

Van Horn praised the pitching and how the team responded with its back to the wall.

“Just a great win for our team obviously,” Van Horn said. “Back against the wall and a lot of drama there at the end. I thought Hagen Smith did a tremendous job tonight, gave us five really good innings, gave up a couple hits, struck out eight.

“It ended up coming down to the bullpens a little bit. Credit to Evan Taylor came in, did a great job for us, got us out of a little bit of a jam, and then obviously Zack Morris came in and finished it up for us. So big win for us.”

Smith (7-2) got the win. Smith went 5.0 innings, allowed just two hits, one run, four walks, eight strikeouts, faced 21 batters and threw 90 pitches. Taylor was also outstanding. He gave the Hogs 3.0 innings, allowed two hits, one run and four strikeouts. Smith, who is a true freshman, talked about his mental approach to tonight’s game.

“My mental approach today was just throw the ball over the plate, just throw strikes because I know I’ve got to throw strikes to give us a chance,” Smith said. “If I walk people, I want to go long, deep in the game and help our team.”

Arkansas got the scoring started in the top of the second when Chris Lanzilli hit a home run over the fence in left field. Ole Miss then answered in the bottom of the second when Alderman planted one over the fence in left field.

The game remained tied at 1 until the top of the fifth. That is when Brady Slavens hit the longest home run in the history of the stadium with a 436-foot blast over the fence in center field. That allowed Arkansas to go up 2-1. Slavens had been moved from second in the batting order to eighth following Monday’s loss. He responded with two hits in the win.

“Yeah, obviously didn’t have the best day yesterday, but you can’t control the past,” Slavens said. “You’ve got to look to the future. Facing elimination, you’ve just got to do whatever you can for the team.”

In the top of the eighth, Cayden Wallace doubled to start the inning. Michael Turner followed with a single to allow Wallace to score for a 3-1 lead. The game stayed that way until the Ole Miss threat in the bottom of the ninth.

The Razorback finished with eight hits and stranded nine. Ole Miss had five hits and they also left nine on base. Ole Miss starter John Gaddis (3-2) took the loss despite pitching well. He went 5.0 innings, allowed four hits, two runs, walked a pair and fanned four. His pitch count was 81 when he was removed. Van Horn was complimentary of Gaddis following the game.

“I thought Gaddis did a really nice job for Ole Miss as well,” Van Horn said. “He kept us off balance with a lot of off-speed pitches. We hit two balls out of the park, but other than that, we really didn’t do a whole lot against him, leadoff double.”

Arkansas (46-20) handed Ole Miss its first loss in the postseason. Ole Miss (39-23) had made it through the regional and super regional in addition to winning its first two games in Omaha including a 13-5 victory over the Razorbacks on Monday night.

The winner-take-all game will be Thursday at 3 p.m. and televised on ESPN. The two teams will pitch their aces on Thursday. Van Horn said that Connor Noland will start and go against Ole Miss’ Dylan Delucia. Van Horn talked about starting Noland on short rest since he pitched on Saturday.

“That was the plan,” Van Horn said. “If we could get to tomorrow — I mean, we weren’t going to use him tonight or we would have used him. Give him another day. He’s been preparing for it and working out, just like their guy. He was long tossing today. We saw him. We watched. We knew that he was getting ready for tomorrow if needed.

“Yeah, that’s the plan. I don’t know, again, the game usually tells you what to do. We’ll see what we see from him and see what kind of stuff he has, see what type of swings they’re taking, and we’ll go to the next guy.”

Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco talked about both team’s pitchers having a good night.

“Tough one to lose, but I thought, probably from your perspective and from a fan’s perspective, it was a heck of a college baseball game,” Bianco said. “Well played on both sides and certainly well pitched.

“On a day where I thought maybe the ball was flying a little bit better than it normally does here, so it will tell you how good all the guys that touched the mound pitched today.”

The winner of Thursday’s game will face Oklahoma in a best-of-three series for the national championship. The first game will be Saturday at 6 p.m. Then Sunday at 2 p.m. If a third game is needed it will be Monday night at 6 p.m. All three games will be televised on ESPN. 

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