Arkansas escapes Mississippi ninth inning to force 2nd Men’s College World Series round final

OMAHA, Neb. – Zack Morris didn’t get much as a starter for Arkansas two nights earlier, but what a finisher it was Wednesday.

Morris was named after Mississippi loaded bases with no eliminations in the lower ninth inning, and the junior southpaw threatened to let the Razorbacks hold on for a 3-2 win at the Men’s College World Series.

The Hogs (46-20) forced a second-round final against Ole Miss (39-23) on Thursday, with the winner advancing to face Oklahoma in the best-of-three championship round starting Saturday.

“Morris did an amazing job,” said Arkansas manager Dave Van Horn. “He spoke to me last night after the game and said, ‘I want the ball again.’ And I said, ‘Be ready.’

“When he walked in, I just said, ‘Hey, man, can you do this?’ And he said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And I just said, ‘OK, there you go. Go get it.’ “

For eight innings, Arkansas nearly closed a bout that had produced 64 points in the first seven games of the NCAA tournament. Kemp Alderman, who hit a tie homer in the second inning, was the only Ole Miss runner to advance past first base to that point.

The Rebels loaded the bases in ninth position after closest Brady Tygart hit two hitters in a row.

Morris, who had given up two points and was withdrawn after two-thirds of an inning in the Hogs 13-5 defeat to Ole Miss on Monday, knocked out pinch-hitter Hayden Leatherwood and sent TJ McCants flying before the infield of Justin Bench single made it a single run game. Morris then convinced Jacob Gonzalez to line up to end the match.

“Zack has been for us all year,” said Brady Slavens. “We all had faith in him. We all believed in him. He didn’t have the best start he would have wanted the other day, but he came out and proved himself tonight.”

Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said he and his players would not dwell on defeat.

“Rather than trouble us,” he said, “how about looking at what great opportunity we have tomorrow?”

With the score tied 1-1 in the fifth, Slavens blew John Gaddis’ second shot of 436 feet in the center right away in a light breeze.

The only other players to reach deadlock since the MCWS moved to Charles Schwab Field in 2011 have been Pete Alonso (2015) of Florida and Dylan Busby (2017) of Florida State.

“I was just looking for a quick ball on the plate,” Slavens said. “Luckily I got it. It might be the furthest I’ve ever hit. I’m not sure.”

The Hogs added a huge insurance run in the eighth. Cayden Wallace sent a ball down the left line for a double, putting his hand on the bag just before second baseman Peyton Chatagnier attempted to tag. The call was received on video.

Michael Turner followed up with a base strike that brought Wallace home, and the Hogs loaded the bases before Jack Dougherty hit Slavens and pinch-hitter Kendall Diggs to finish the innings.

Arkansas freshman Hagen Smith (7-2) pitched five innings for his longest outing since making six in an April 30 win over the Rebels. He allowed a run with two hits and four walks, and knocked out eight.

“My mental approach today was to just throw the ball over the plate, just throw strikes, because I know I have to throw strikes to give us a chance,” Smith said. “If I accompany people, I won’t go long or help our team.”

Evan Taylor gave up two shots and waved four in three innings, leaving him after Alderman scored the lead in the ninth.

Gaddis (3-2), launched for the first time since June 6 and who made his debut for the first time since April 9, conceded two points out of four hits.

The teams exchanged home runs in the second. Chris Lanzilli went deep for the third time in the MCWS and Alderman hooked up for the Rebels.

Lanzilli’s homer barely crosses the fence in the center left and bounces back onto the pitch. The humerus was confirmed after a video review.

Lanzilli became the first player to hit three homers in an MCWS since Jimmy Kerr of Michigan in 2019.

White and Van Horn announced they would start their aces on Thursday, with Ole Miss’s Dylan DeLucia (7-2) against Connor Noland (8-5).

“I can’t promise you the outcome of tomorrow’s game, but I can guarantee you that we are not afraid, we will not back down,” said Chatagnier, whose team was the last to receive a general offer for the NCAA tournament. “This is not new to us”.

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