College World Series: Arkansas saved by the bell, courtesy of Zack Morris. Can OmaHogs do it again?
It was a familiar scene for those of us who can remember 1990s television. Long before Arkansas reliever Zack Morris was born, teens and other aficionados of low-budget television watched blonde wunderkind Zack Morris rule over the fictional Bayside High School. Among the many things that made Morris and his show, “Saved By the Bell,” a favorite was his ability to break television’s fourth wall and call “timeout” at particularly pivotal moments.
Life imitated (bad) art on Wednesday night in Omaha. Arkansas, fighting for its life against Ole Miss, had done almost everything right for 8 1/2 innings. Chris Lanzilli homered. Brady Slavens hit a ball that might still be traveling in the midwest somewhere. Hagen Smith was sharp in his starting role, and Michael Turner even knocked in another run in the 8th, giving the Hogs a 3-1 edge.
But in the bottom of the final frame, quicker than a sitcom reversal of fortune, Ole Miss turned a single and a pair of hit batters into a bases-loaded, no-out opportunity to win the CWS semifinals.
Enter Morris, who started the Hogs’ 13-5 loss to Ole Miss on Monday — and not fared well. Recent history aside, back in the bullpen Morris might as well have had the fictional Morris’ ability to stop the rest of the action, call a “timeout,” and control the situation. And Arkansas, which went into Morris’ cameo on the edge of their seats, left happily looking forward to the Thursday winner-advance opportunity the ace reliever had granted them.
Morris fanned Hayden Leatherwood for a critical first out. He then got TJ McCants to loft a short pop-up into left field. Shortstop Jalen Battles ran down left fielder Jace Bohrofen, who somehow made the catch and held the runners despite Battles clobbering him. The Rebels did draw closer when Justin Bench rolled single, but even then, Morris created soft enough contact that Battles kept the ball in the infield, maintaining the 3-2 lead. Despite falling behind Jacob Gonzalez in both 1-0 and 2-1 counts, Morris was as cool as his TV name double, painting the edge of the strike zone to draw even at 2-2 and then induce Gonzalez to line softly to Bohrofen to end the game.
How appropriate, then, that Morris’ star turn gave us all one more episode of SEC-on-SEC baseball.
In a season worthy of its own reality show, Arkansas and Ole Miss have given us one more to remember. Thursday is a 1-game winner-take-all matchup between probably the league’s best program not to bring home a CWS title and the hottest team in college baseball, which has turned in a surprising rally off a disappointing and perplexing regular season.
Sure, Texas A&M’s loss to Oklahoma earlier Wednesday spoiled a second consecutive all-SEC final. But even short of claiming the full slate of CWS finals spots, it’s been a golden run again for the SEC. Even if Wednesday took a reliever with a TV character’s name and an impeccable grip of the moment to bring us to the finale.
Thursday will be Dylan DeLucia versus Connor Noland. It’ll be Oxford against Fayetteville. Rebels versus Hogs. The JUCO transfer vs. the former QB. The bracket buster versus the team rebounding from heartbreak a season before.
Whichever SEC team is the last one standing, Thursday will represent another step in a story that television might even reject — too many twists and turns, ups and down, too many surprises. Truth will triumph over fiction on Thursday — thanks to Zack Morris on Wednesday.