OMAHA, Neb. -- It was a sight to see for the Ole Miss Rebels.
As they entered the playing surface at TD Ameritrade Park for batting practice before Thursday night's elimination game against TCU, veteran key hitters Will Allen and Sikes Orvis took note of one very important detail: The wind, as seems to be customary, wasn't blowing in on this day. Instead, the flags were stagnant, a slight breeze blowing through the stadium at times.
The previous two games here in Omaha, the Rebels had to deal with the wind blowing straight in, sometimes in 10-20 mph. That, of course, is partly a reason why the Rebels had a whopping three runs in two games against Virginia and Texas Tech to being the CWS.
Against TCU, though, the Rebels looked like the offense and team we've grown accustomed to much of the spring, using a nice balance of clutch hitting from Allen, Orvis, and others, while also riding the bullpen in the middle and late innings to a 6-4 victory to keep a national title dream alive for at least another day.
"I know for me, personally, I like to drive the ball. Seeing the wind blowing in like that (previously) kind of knocks me off my game a little," Orvis said. "So, we finally go out there for BP and we were hitting, and the ball was carrying a little bit, so we all got wide-eyed.
"The game got going, and when it stayed the same, we were like all right, we can swing tonight," he continued. "We then started having some good at-bats together."
The Rebels' overall performance against the Horned Frogs was a stark contrast from the first two games against the Cavaliers and Red Raiders. For instance, the combination of Orvis and Allen went a combined 0-for-13 against those teams. But those two were very productive in the win over the Horned Frogs.
Ole Miss started the scoring in the third inning with a big three-run frame. Braxton Lee's RBI single got the Rebels on the board, while Allen, who's playing through an ailing shoulder, smacked a two-RBI double to extend the lead to 3-0, putting the Frogs in quite an early hole -- especially in this ballpark.
TCU eventually would fight back with three runs in the fourth, and the two teams traded a run a piece in the fifth, with TCU's Kevin Cron hitting a home run on a 91 mph fastball from Josh Laxer. The Ole Miss offense, though, got the last laugh with two more runs the rest of the way, including another big-hit from Allen, an RBI single in the seventh inning to plate the go-ahead run, while Orvis had the exclamation point in the ninth with an RBI double.
"It was about being consistent and doing what Coach Godwin says, and get on the top of the ball," Allen said. "Luckily we had some good barrels tonight. We found some gaps and found some holes, and then we were just getting people on base.
"Once we get going, like Sikes said, one through nine there isn't an easy out. We're a really tough lineup to face, I believe. And luckily, we scored some runs tonight."
Another key to Ole Miss' win over TCU was the bullpen. Ole Miss veteran righthanded pitcher Sam Smith usually is crisp, and he battled his way to a respectable start against Louisiana-Lafayette in NCAA Super Regional action. However, the Horned Frogs forced the Rebels to lift Smith after allowing three runs on four hits in 3 1/3 innings.
Typically, coaches don't like having to turn to the bullpen that early. But Mike Bianco and Ole Miss? I'm not real sure they care.
The Ole Miss bullpen has been a very strong part of this club down the stretch. The Rebels were forced in early to mid April to rely on other relievers besides Aaron Greenwood after the talented righty went down with an injury before the Mississippi State series. The bullpen rose to the occasion on the road in a raucous environment, and really has been pitching at a high level since that weekend.
"Yeah, I really think the bullpen is the difference in our season maybe the last six weeks of the season," Bianco said. "We went from just relying on one guy at the end to basically relying on a different guy each day. It seems like every game, one of our guys steps up and does a great job."
Ole Miss hard-throwing righthander Josh Laxer worked 2 2/3 quality innings, while young lefty Wyatt Short tossed 1 2/3 shutout innings, and sure-handed Aaron Greenwood tossed 1 1/3 perfect innings to end the contest.
Overall, this was the type of performance Bianco's club needed to get past freshman lefthanded pitcher Tyler Alexander and TCU, and now they head into Friday needing to beat Virginia twice to advance to the CWS Championship Series.
Much of the Rebels' success could again hinge on how the ballpark plays, and things look favorable for Friday with a very slight south breeze expected.
Perhaps the ride will continue for the Rebels.
GAME AT A GLANCE
Player of the game: Will Allen, dh/c, Ole Miss
Turning point: The Rebels began the night in impressive fashion, getting off to a 3-0 lead after three innings. However, the Horned Frogs fought back and the two teams were tied 4-4 going to the seventh inning. After the Rebels got the first two runners on base in the inning on a hit-by-pitch and single, hobbled Will Allen (shoulder issue) smacked an RBI single to give the Rebels a 5-4 advantage. The outstanding Ole Miss bullpen took care of the rest, but it was Allen's RBI single that clinched the win over the Horned Frogs.
Did you know? With three hits in the third inning, Ole Miss equaled its actual run total in the first two games of the College World Series, one run against Virginia to open the CWS, and two in the elimination game win over Texas Tech. The Rebels have had the most balanced lineup in the Southeastern Conference the entire spring, and Thursday's performance was more typical of this club.