June 18, 2014 10:48:44 AM
OMAHA, Neb. -- In a College World Series where hits have been few and far between for Mississippi, none was more timely than the one John Gatlin delivered Tuesday.
Gatlin's pinch-hit single into short right field over a pulled-in, five-man infield in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Ole Miss baseball team a 2-1 victory against Texas Tech in an elimination game at the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park.
The finish came after Texas Tech had tied it in the top of the ninth thanks to two stolen bases and a sacrifice fly.
"When the game is on the line like that, we're each called upon in different situations and every one of us feels prepared for it and expects to get the job done," Gatlin said. "That just goes back to the toughness we've been preaching all year."
Ole Miss (47-20) will play TCU at 7 p.m. Thursday in another elimination game. Virginia defeated TCU 3-2 in 15 innings Tuesday night.
Gatlin, a fifth-year senior, was the unlikely hero. After missing last season with injuries, he entered the game Tuesday hitting .103 in 29 at-bats and was mourning the death of his grandmother. Gatlin was called on in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game to face reliever Dominic Moreno with the winning run on third base. Gatlin sent a 1-2 pitch into right field to score Aaron Greenwood for the walk-off victory.
"One of the great things about this profession, about being a coach, is to watch young men like John Gatlin when good things happen to good people," Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
Gatlin was a part-time designated hitter in 2012, batting .255. He missed last season with a torn labrum and a broken foot. He hadn't appeared in the NCAA tournament until Tuesday, and he stepped to the plate in the ninth as a .197 career hitter. Bianco was running out of options when he called on Gatlin. He wanted Gatlin to face left-hander Cameron Smith but wasn't surprised when Texas Tech brought in Moreno to set up a righty-righty matchup.
"They bring the right-hander in, and we said, 'Just hit it somewhere, John,' " Bianco said.
Gatlin's grandmother died after he and his teammates left for Omaha. She was on his mind after the game.
"I couldn't think of anything else that she could be more proud of," Gatlin said.
Ole Miss hitting coach Cliff Godwin had asked Gatlin if he needed to return home.
"I said, 'Are you kidding me?' She'd kill me if I came home right now," Gatlin said. "But, yeah, game's on the line like that, so much going through your head, and she was definitely a part of it."
Texas Tech (45-20) went 0-2 in its first CWS.
"We line up to play and we want to win," Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said, "so it's kind of an unusual feeling for me because we did do something these guys will hold forever. At the same time, we're going to lay our head down every night and wake up every morning trying to get back."
Ole Miss won after Colby Bortles walked with one out. Brantley Bell hit a comebacker to Cameron Smith, who tried to force out Bortles at second. But he threw high into center field, allowing Bortles to go to third.
Greenwood then pinch ran for Bortles. Moreno came on to face Gatlin and Texas Tech shifted an extra player to the left side of the infield and went with only two outfielders. Gatlin then punched a 1-2 pitch over second base.
"We've done that throughout the entire season where (players) 1 through 27 contribute in some form or fashion," Gatlin said.
Scott Weathersby (4-4) got the win for an inning of relief of left-hander Christian Trent, who allowed six hits, walked one and struck out six in eight innings.
Smith (8-3) took the loss after working a third of an inning. Freshman starter Ryan Moseley pitched 7 1/3 innings.
Tech tied it 1-1 in the top of the ninth. Adam Kirsch singled with one out, and Zach Davis entered as a pinch runner. With pinch hitter Anthony Lyons at the plate, Davis stole second and third. Lyons then lofted a sacrifice fly to right to bring in Davis.
Ole Miss broke a scoreless tie in the seventh in what, up to then, had been another frustrating offensive day. The Rebels had entered the CWS with a .303 batting average that was best among the eight teams in Omaha. But they managed only one hit Sunday in a 2-1 loss to Virginia and were 4-for-49 (.082) in the CWS when Holt Perdzock stepped in against Ryan Moseley.
Perdzock sent Moseley's first pitch down the third-base line, allowing Sikes Orvis to score from second.
Ole Miss is 13-9 in one-run games this season, including 2-1 in the NCAA tournament.
Texas Tech was 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position in two CWS games, including 0-for-6 on Tuesday.
"It's why we keep showing up, because it's very unpredictable -- just an inch here or an inch there, and the game could go either way," Tadlock said. "At the same time, Ole Miss earned it. They earned the right to move on, and good luck to them."
1. Fitzgerald has strong showing in place of Prescott COLLEGE SPORTS
2. MSU volleyball earns dominating victory against Georgia COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Bruffett's two goals help push MSU past No. 20 Kentucky COLLEGE SPORTS