OMAHA, Neb. — Ole Miss’ loss to open the College World Series seems like a long time ago.
It was only Sunday — a loss that sent the Rebels to the bottom of the Omaha mountain.
But they certainly didn’t come nearly 800 miles for nothing and are showing a strong interest in staying for a while.
The Rebels sent TCU home with a 6-4 win on Thursday night at TD Ameritrade Park. There are now four teams left to duke it out for a chance at an NCAA championship series.
There is a problem though, for Ole Miss — and Texas for that matter. The Rebels and Longhorns both have a loss. One more and it’s packing time.
Ole Miss gets a chance to avenge Sunday’s loss. Virginia beat the Rebels 2-1 on Mike Papi’s walkoff double. The rematch is set for 8 p.m. on Friday. An Ole Miss win would mean a rubber match. A Virginia win checks the Rebels out of their hotel.
But sent to the bottom, Ole Miss came back fighting. The Rebels (48-20) beat Texas Tech 2-1 Tuesday, then beat hopped over the Horned Frogs.
Thursday’s celebration couldn’t last long. The mountain is still high.
"It’s just playing baseball," Ole Miss freshman shortstop Errol Robinson said. "It’s all the challenges that are always here that always exist. It’s just about winning pitches and playing solid defense and being strong on the mound to win a baseball game."
Ole Miss made the plays Thursday, more than they made in the first two games at the spacious Nebraska confines. The Rebels had a combined six hits in the first two games, 6-for-57 from the plate in the first two. Thursday: 11-for-36
The bats finally came alive — it may or may not have had anything to do with the fact that the Hurricane, as first baseman Sikes Orvis calls it, wasn’t blowing directly in. TCU was 5-for-31 and Ole Miss had a lot to do with that, too, particularly in the eighth inning. Gripping to a 5-4 lead and a double steal threatening their prolonged stay, Robinson scooped a slow grounder off the bat of Cody Jones and fired, literally just in time, to Orvis to end the inning as the run that crossed the plate didn’t go on the board.
"It’s just another routine ball, another play that’s got to be made to really save a game," Robinson said, "like I said about making plays and that’s just one of them."
Routine, please. An inch here or there on the snag or the throw and the game is tied. Right before that, on the double steal that put a go-ahead run at second, catcher Austin Knight stopped a ball in the dirt from going to the backstop to tie the game.
Knight was playing because starter Will Allen is battling through an arm injury from the Super Regional at Louisiana-Lafayette.
It isn’t surprising the Rebels are climbing right back up the mountain. Nine of their players were taken in the Major League Baseball Draft, the most in college baseball. Starting pitchers Chris Ellis and Christian Trent were taken in the third and 29th rounds, respectively. Center fielder Auston Bousfield went in the fifth round. Also drafted were third baseman Austin Anderson (9th), leadoff hitter Braxton Lee (12th), Allen (13th) and relief pitchers Josh Laxer (9th), Hawtin Buchanan (20th) and Aaron Greenwood (28th).
Laxer and Greewood combined Thursday to throw four innings of one-hit, one-run ball.
Ellis is the ace, but No. 2 Christian Trent is unbeaten. Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco didn’t hammer the Friday starter down after the win. Virginia will throw Josh Sborz (5-4, 3.04).
That list of Major League talent combined with the awakening of the Rebels’ bats and the stellar defensive plays that Robinson is calling routine is why Ole Miss is climbing back up the mountain.
They’re not there yet and Virginia will be stepping the Rebels’ hands as they try and even the playing field.
The last team to lose its opening game in the College World Series and make the title series was South Carolina in 2010. The Gamecocks went on to win the whole thing. Oregon State did it in 2006 — and won the whole thing.
Allen’s injury didn’t affect his bat. He went 3-for-5 with three RBI. Orvis was 3-for-5 after starting the series 0-for-6. Orvis’ ninth-inning double was the insurance that Ole Miss may have needed if TCU cleanup hitter Kevin Cron, who hit the series’ second homer to tie the game, were to get off the on-deck circle with man a in the bottom of the inning. But Greenwood closed the door.
Ole Miss’ six runs were the most allowed by TCU in the last 16 games. They just took out 2/3 of the Texas trio in the tournament and one of the two national seeds that made the trip. TCU was No. 7.
Virginia is No. 3 , a team that beat Ole Miss in the 2009 Super Regional in Oxford and more freshly, a team that beat it Sunday.
History is against Ole Miss. Then again, it was when the Rebels lost four Super Regionals and kept the 42-year College World Series drought going.