By Otis Kirk
Ole Miss took control of Monday night’s game early on and never trailed on its way to a 13-5 win in Omaha.
The loss drops Arkansas (44-20) to the loser’s bracket where they will face Auburn (46-21) on Tuesday night in an elimination game. Auburn defeated Stanford 6-2 earlier on Monday to stay alive in the College World Series.
Ole Miss plated two runs in the top of the first off starter Zack Morris, who didn’t make it out of the first inning. Justin Bench started the game off with a single to right field. Then, with two outs, Kevin Graham singled to right field to allow Bench to score. Morris then walked a batter, hit a batter and walked another to force Graham in to score. Morris (6-1) took the loss.
It was obvious basically from the start Morris just didn’t have it on Monday night. He worked 0.2 innings allowing two runs, a pair of hits, walked a couple, had a wild pitch and hit a batter only facing seven hitters before being removed for Evan Taylor. Dave Van Horn talked about the pitching afterward.
“Obviously we didn’t pitch very good,” Van Horn said. “Got off to a bad start. Zack didn’t get out of the first inning. Walked a couple. Gave up an 0-2 count single to the lead-off man. That was kind of the beginning of it. And we just didn’t pitch very well.
“And you’ve got to give credit to Hunter Elliott. He did. He came out and he gave them some quality innings and let them build up a lead.”
Van Horn talked about what led him to start Morris over Will McEntire, who has been Arkansas’ second most consistent pitcher in postseason.
“Probably the fact that they’re hitting, like, .248 against righties,” Van Horn said. “You dig deeper into the stats, most of the damage they do, you know, home runs, big innings, extra base hits come off right-handed pitchers. And that would be the reason.”
Braydon Webb singled to center field in the bottom of the first. Then after two strikeouts, Michael Turner doubled to left field getting Webb into score to cut the Ole Miss lead in half at 2-1.
But, in the top of the second, Bench hit a one-out double to left field. Two hitters later Tim Elko hit one over the fence in left field to give the Rebels a 4-1 lead.
Robert Moore reached on an error by the Ole Miss shortstop to start the bottom of the second. Jalen Battles followed with a double to right field giving the Hogs runners on second and third with no outs. Peyton Stovall then grounded out to first base, but Moore scored from third. Then Zack Gregory put a perfect squeeze bunt down to get Battles home and the Hogs only trailed 4-3 after two innings.
“We almost crawled back into it after a couple, and then they go out and get a couple more in the third,” Van Horn said. “That was a little disappointing. The fifth inning, that’s when the game pretty much turned — couple of walks, couple of hits, maybe three walks, I’m not sure. But we just didn’t slow them down.”
Ole Miss added two more runs in top of the third. Hayden Dunhurst walked and then Garrett Wood singled. Calvin Harris then doubled to plate both of them for a 6-3 lead. The Rebels added four more runs in the top of the fifth with the big hit being a two-run home run by Harris for a 10-3 lead.
The Rebels pushed three more runs across the plate in the top of the eighth. Wood walked and then Harris doubled to left field. Bench then singled to center field allowing both TJ McCants, who pinch ran for Wood, and Harris to score. Bench scored when Elko was out on a fielder’s choice.
The Hogs did get two runs in the bottom of the ninth. Moore doubled to left field to start the inning. After a strikeout, Stovall blasted a home run over the fence in right field to finish the night’s scoring.
While the Hogs used seven pitchers on the night, Ole Miss starter Hunter Elliott (5-3) picked up the win. He went 6.1 innings, allowed six hits, three runs though only one earned, walked two and struck out four. Braydon Webb talked about what Elliott did to be so successful.
“He was mixing well and throwing a lot of strikes,” Webb said. “We hit some balls hard, just right at them. And their defense made some plays and allowed him to go farther in the game.”
Ole Miss finished with 13 hits and stranded 12. Arkansas pitchers walked 10 Rebels and hit two others. Arkansas had eight hits and left five on the bases. Bench had four hits for the Rebels, Elko three RBIs and Harris three hits and four RBIs. Stovall had two hits and three RBIs to lead the Razorback attack. StovAll talked about Arkansas’ mindset heading into Tuesday night’s elimination game.
“For me, I think as a whole team, just being confident and just going out there and, yeah, it’s an elimination game,” Stovall said. “But at the end of the day just relax, have fun and just play loose. That’s when we’re at our best. If we’re able to do that I think we’ll have success tomorrow.”
Mike Bianco was a happy coach following the win that allows them to advance to Wednesday’s game where they will play either Arkansas or Auburn again. They have already beaten both teams in Omaha.
“Lost my voice a little bit, sorry,” Bianco said. “We were terrific tonight. Just really played well and it starts on the mound. And Hunter was just like he’s pitched the second half of the season. Unfortunately, for him, we didn’t play great defense early.
“And not taking anything away from Arkansas but he shouldn’t have given up a run today. We mispositioned (Jacob) Gonzalez in the first inning and allowed a routine ground ball to the shortstop become a base hit to start the game. And then with two outs, sun/wind, fly ball to left field. Actually got five outs in the first inning.”
Arkansas took two of three games at Auburn May 6-8. The Hogs won 11-8, lost 5-3 and then won 7-4 to take the series. Tuesday night’s game will be televised on ESPN beginning at 6 p.m.