BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
OMAHA, Neb. – The story of Ole Miss’ 13-5 win over Arkansas Monday night in the winners’ bracket at the College World Series came down to pitching.
The red-hot Rebels got 6 1/3 innings for freshman lefty starter Hunter Elliott (5-3) while the Razorbacks had to use six pitchers to get to that point.
The result is Ole Miss (39-22) needing only one win to get to the championship series while Arkansas (42-20) must win a trio of elimination games to do so.
“We were terrific tonight,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “Just really played well and it starts on the mound…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.”
Razorback starter and losing pitcher Zack Morris (6-1) was unable to get out of the first inning while Arkansas’ first four hurlers all gave up at least two runs.
“Obviously we didn’t pitch very good,” Razorback head coach Dan 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.”
Elliott would go on to throw exactly 100 pitches (61 strikes) while allowing one earned run on six hits, fanning four and walking two.
“..If you haven’t seen Hunter before, you saw why he’s so good,” Bianco said, “…here’s a freshman on the biggest stage in amateur baseball and he didn’t let it affect him. He just couldn’t wait to pitch and work and grind.”
Arkansas did show some life offensively with a run in the first and and pair in the second, but Ole Miss would rip off nine unanswered tallies.
“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.”
Arkansas’ seven pitchers threw 204 pitches (69 more than Ole Miss) during the game, 110 for strikes, while giving up the 13 runs on 13 hits, walking 10 and fanning 10.
“And the walks, I think we had eight or nine, maybe 10 walks tonight,” Van Horn said. “And you’re not going to beat people at this level with that.
Van Horn was asked about starting Morris (1.89 ERA in 33 1/3 innings) instead of right hander Will McEntire (1-2, 2.81 ERA in 41 2/3 innings).
“Probably the fact that they’re hitting like .300 against righties and .248 against lefties,” 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.”
Arkansas will face Auburn (43-21) Tuesday night at 6 p.m. in an elimination game with the winner needing to beat Ole Miss twice after that to reach the championship series.
Auburn, despite having eight players dealing with a stomach bug, eliminated Stanford 6-2 earlier Monday, two days after the Razorbacks downed the Cardinal 17-2.
“So what did I tell the guys after the game? They played better than us, and we need to move on,” Van Horn said. “You can’t look at the big picture. You have to figure out how to play well tomorrow. Got to play well tomorrow. Got to win tomorrow and have a chance to play the next day. That’s our focus, just move on and get to tomorrow night’s game.”
Bianco didn’t tried to hide the fact he was not interested in his team – who has won all seven of its NCAA Tournament games and 15 of 18 overall, fighting through the losers’ bracket.
“Obviously we’re excited,” Bianco said. “This is a big game. I think either losing the first one or the second one, man, it’s tough. It’s tough to get through because you’ve got to play four days in a row and you’ve got to win the next three just to get to the championship series.”
Justin Bench had four hits and scored four runs while Calvin Harris added three hits and four RBI to lead Ole Miss.
Harris homered as did Tim Elko, whose two-run homer in the second inning was his 23rd of the year, gave him 73 RBIs for the season and put Rebels up 4-1 in the second.
“They were ahead in the count,” Van Horn said. “Pretty simple — 2-0, 3-1, it’s easy to hit.”
Arkansas had eight hits with Braydon Webb, Jalen Battles and Peyton Stovall all having two each.
Stovall’s two-run homer in the ninth was his sixth of the season and set the final score.
He said the mindset on Wednesday will be one of getting a win and living to fight another day.
“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.”
Webb expressed some of those same sentiments.
“Just piggyback off that, it’s all about perspective,” Stovall said. “We’re blessed to still be here and have the opportunity to go out and compete tomorrow. And just play our brand of baseball, have some fun. And tomorrow’s a new day.”
Tuesday’s first game has Notre Dame and Texas A&M playing at 1 p.m. in an elimination game in the other bracket.
Oklahoma is 2-0 and awaits the winner.
Photo courtesy of Arkansas