OMAHA, Neb. – Zack Morris didn’t get much done as the starter for Arkansas two nights earlier, but what a finisher he was Wednesday.
Morris was called on after Mississippi loaded the bases with no outs at the bottom of the ninth inning, and the junior left-hander put down the threat to let the Razorbacks hang on for a 3-2 win at the Men’s College World Series.
The Hogs (46-20) forced a second bracket final against Ole Miss (39-23) on Thursday, with the winner advancing to play Oklahoma in the best-of-three championship round starting Saturday.
“Morris did a tremendous job,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He talked to me last night after the game and said, ‘I want the ball again.’ And I said, ‘Just be ready.’
“When he came in, I just said, ‘Hey, man, can you do this?’ And he said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And I just said, ‘OK, here you go. Go get it.’ “
For eight innings, Arkansas all but shut down an offense that had produced 64 runs in its first seven NCAA tournament games. Kemp Alderman, who hit a tying 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 the ninth after closer Brady Tygart hit two straight batters.
Morris, who had given up two runs and was pulled after two-thirds of an inning in the Hogs’ 13-5 loss to Ole Miss on Monday, struck out pinch-hitter Hayden Leatherwood and got TJ McCants to fly out before Justin Bench’s infield single made it a one-run game. Morris then got Jacob Gonzalez to line out to end the game.
“Zack’s been clutching for us all year long,” Brady Slavens said. “We all had faith in him. We all had belief in him. He didn’t have the best start that he 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 the loss.
“Rather than woe is us,” he said, “how about looking at what a great opportunity we have tomorrow?”
With the score tied 1-1 in the fifth, Slavens blasted John Gaddis ’second pitch 436 feet to straightaway center into a light breeze.
The only other players to homer to dead center since the MCWS moved to Charles Schwab Field in 2011 were Florida’s Pete Alonso (2015) and Florida State’s Dylan Busby (2017).
“I was just looking for a fastball over the plate,” Slavens said. “Luckily I got it. It might be the farthest one 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-field line for a double, getting his hand onto the bag just ahead of second baseman Peyton Chatagnier’s tag attempt. The call was upheld on video review.
Michael Turner followed with a base hit that brought Wallace home, and the Hogs loaded the bases before Jack Dougherty struck out Slavens and pinch-hitter Kendall Diggs to end the inning.
Arkansas freshman lefty Hagen Smith (7-2) pitched five innings for his longest outing since he went six in an April 30 win over the Rebels. He allowed one run on two hits and four walks, and he struck out eight.
“My mental approach today was just to throw the ball over the plate, just to throw strikes, because I know I’ve got to throw strikes to give us a chance,” Smith said. “If I walk people, I won’t go long or help our team.”
Evan Taylor gave up two hits and fanned four in three innings, leaving after Alderman singled leading off the ninth.
Gaddis (3-2), pitching for the first time since June 6 and making his first start since April 9, allowed two runs on four hits.
The teams traded home runs in the second. Chris Lanzilli went deep for the third time in the MCWS, and Alderman connected for the Rebels.
Lanzilli’s homer barely cleared the fence in left center and bounced back onto the field. The homer was confirmed after a video review.
Lanzilli became the first player to hit three homers in an MCWS since Michigan’s Jimmy Kerr in 2019.
Bianco and Van Horn announced they would start their aces Thursday, with Ole Miss’ Dylan DeLucia (7-2) going against Connor Noland (8-5).
“I can’t promise you the outcome of tomorrow’s game, but I can guarantee you we’re not scared, we’re not going to back down,” said Chatagnier, whose team was the last to receive an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament. “This is nothing new to us.”