OMAHA, Neb. – It’s come down to this at the College World Series – you show me your ace and I’ll show you mine.
Arkansas (46-20) and Ole Miss (45-22) will play Thursday at 3 p.m on ESPN2 with their best pitchers on the mound and the winner advancing to play Oklahoma (45-22) Saturday in the opening game of the national championship series.
The loser’s season is over, just as Arkansas’ would have been without a 3-2 win over Ole Miss on Wednesday night.
Chris Lanzilli and Brady Slavens both hit solo homers while Cayden Wallace provided what proved to be the winning run in the eighth after getting a hustling double and scoring on Michael Turner’s single.
“This feels really good,” Wallace said. “We have worked really hard, have had a lots of ups and downs throughout the season, but I knew this team was really special from the fall.”
“It’s exactly the team that we saw and we are very tough. That is what I like about this team.”
It will be the sixth time the two teams have played this season with Arkansas holding a 3-2 lead headed into Thursday’s game.
Slavens’ whose tie-breaking 436-foot homer run in the fifth inning was the longest since Charles Schwab Field opened in 2011, believes he knows what the key is for Thursday’s game.
“I would say just come out with some energy,” Slavens said. “We have to strike early, That is a really good team and that is the first time they have lost all postseason. We he played a lot thjs season and both teams are going to play hard.”
Asked if his team would have momentum because of Wednesday night’s win, Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn instead talked about the confidence his team is playing with overall right now.
“I think at this time of the year it’s just about winning games and hanging in there,” Van Horn said. “ If we would have done this maybe a month and a half ago, two months ago, I would have told you it’s really going to help our confidence moving forward.
“But at this time of the year, I think the team’s really confident and pretty loose.”
Ole Miss rallied for a run in the ninth and had the tying and go ahead runs on base with nobody out, but Arkansas pitcher Zack Morris came in to relieve Brady Tygart and escaped with the win while notching a save.
Morris had been the starter and lasted just 2/3 of an inning on Monday night in the Rebels’ 13-5 winners’ bracket victory that had put them in the drivers seat.
But Ole Miss left handed batters went 0 of 18 on the night while facing left handers Smith, Taylor and Morris.
“You’ve got to play well,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “We’ve earned the right to play in that game. We lose this one, but we won the first two, and that gives you the right to do that. As was already said, we’ve got our ace going.”
This is a scenario that Bianco said he have easily taken before the season started.
“If you would have asked four or five months ago in February, would you like this opportunity to have your ace on the mound in a winner-take-all to get you the Championship Series, everybody would say yes,” Bianco said.
“So rather than look at what happened tonight, I think the thing is to flush this and to look forward to tomorrow with an opportunity to win and stay alive and be one of the last two teams competing for a National Championship.
“So rather than woe is us, how about looking at what a great opportunity we have tomorrow?”
Both teams will send their acknowledged top starters to the mound with Connor Noland (8-5, 3.75 ERA in 118 innings) going for the Razorbacks and Dylan DeLucia (7-2, 4.07 in 86 innings) for the Rebels.
The winner gets Oklahoma, who stayed unbeaten at the CWS by eliminating Texas A&M 5-1 earlier on Wednesday.
“When Connor steps own the mound, we just have so much confidence in him,” Wallace said.
“He just kind of comes out there with a different mentality. He just shows it when he steps on the mound.
“I’m going to bet he has his stuff, but even if he doesn’t have his stuff, he is going to compete and give it his all for six or seven innings. It’s been unreal to see that all year this year.”
Slavens also has plenty of confidence in Noland, who has three wins in as many starts for Arkansas in the postseason.
“He’s been really good this whole year,” Slavens said. “It’s going to be tough for us. We’re going to have to fight. It’s going to take all of us to win, and it’s just going to be a battle between the two teams.”
Noland and Arkansas gets this opportunity because freshman Hagen Smith pitched five innings of one-run baseball and Evan Taylor pitched into the ninth.
After Brady Tygart loaded he bases by hitting two straight batters, Morris escaped a precarious no out situation in the ninth with just one run scoring.
Noland and DeLucia faced each other back on April 29 in Fayetteville with Ole Miss winning 4-2.
DeLucia pitched into the eighth inning, exiting when Braydon Webb launched a two-run homer. It was his 105th pitch on night when he allowed eight hits.
Noland threw 103 pitches, allowing 11 hits and 4 runs while throwing 103 pitches and throwing 68 strikes just as DeLucia did.
He was geared toward pitching Thursday after throwing 79 pitched in Arkansas’ 17-2 win over Stanford on Saturday.
“That was the plan,” Van Horn said. “If we could get to tomorrow — I mean, we weren’t going to use him tonight or we would have used him (to start). Give him another day.
“He’s been preparing for it and working out, just like their guy. He (DeLucia) was long tossing today. We saw him. We watched. We knew that he was getting ready for tomorrow if needed.”
Bianco also saved his ace for Thursday with the hope instead he could have started the first game in the best two of three championship series on Saturday.
DeLucia went 7 2/3 innings while allowing one run on four hits, fanning 10, walking one and throwing 114 pitches, 35 more than Noland did.
“I don’t know who they’re throwing, but, yes, it would have been nice to start Dylan on Saturday, but you’ve got to get to Saturday,” Bianco said. “That’s not the reason he didn’t throw today. It was really just giving him another day of rest so he would be at his best. It shapes up for a really good game.”