Rebels and their fans are on a roll
Ole Miss beats TCU and hopes to stay even longer at the College World Series
OMAHA, Neb. -- During his team's break from action on Wednesday at the College World Series, Ole Miss first baseman Sikes Orvis made his way to the merchandise tents outside TD Ameritrade Park in search of a few souvenirs.
He found none. Travelers from Mississippi had bought the vendors out of his team's gear.
"Everybody kept saying they were going to have to overnight more Ole Miss stuff in," Orvis said.
His RBI double in the ninth inning on Thursday ensured that plenty of fans of the Rebels will remain to buy the new stuff. Ole Miss stayed alive with a 6-4 elimination-game win over TCU, advancing to a rematch with Virginia on Friday night.
If you're looking for a feel-good story at this CWS -- void of the true Cinderella amid a much-documented lack of offensive spark -- perhaps it's Ole Miss. A few days after TCU looked like the team of destiny after its dramatic first-round win that followed a ninth-inning comeback in the super regional clincher, Ole Miss better fits the bill.
Most endearing about the Rebels? This love affair with their fans, who have waited, most of them, a lifetime to see Ole Miss in the CWS. The program ranked fifth nationally in attendance, averaging 7,263 at Swayze Field in an atmosphere best described as a party every night.
The right-field student section in Oxford is legendary. And the Rebels traveled well to Omaha.
"It feels very good. I think the fans are more ecstatic than us."
Ole Miss last visited Omaha in 1972. Before Tuesday, it last won a game at the CWS in 1969. For the past decade, its fans have ingested a steady diet of torment. Ole Miss qualified for super regionals -- the CWS doorstep -- four times from 2005 to 2009.
It lost at home to Texas, then at home to Miami. It lost at Arizona State and blew a ninth-inning lead in Oxford to Virginia in a 2009 game that could have ended the drought.
The past four years have brought only defeats in the regional round.
Ole Miss, the most deserving club of the past generation that had yet to break through and make the CWS, was going the wrong way. Until two weeks ago, when it came back from a one-game deficit at Louisiana-Lafayette to punch its ticket.
When the Rebels returned home from Lafayette, Orvis said, 2,000 fans greeted them at Swayze Field. All around town last week, people said, "We'll see you in Omaha."
They weren't kidding. Ole Miss' support here rivals all others, even the contingent from CWS regular Texas.
The elimination-game victory on Thursday marked the Rebels' fourth in the past five games, including two at this ballpark, to match Lafayette and Stanford for the most in the NCAA postseason this year.
"It's just something with this team," designated hitter Will Allen said. "When our back's up against the wall, we play really good baseball. Just a tough team, very confident team, and we've continued to do it throughout the whole season."
Allen, the cleanup-hitting senior catcher, shifted to designated hitter on Thursday because of a shoulder injury suffered in the super regionals. He didn't want to hurt the team with his defense. Instead, Allen finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs. His two-out double in the third inning scored two runs.
Austin Knight filled in well behind the plate.
When starter Sam Smith struggled on the mound, Josh Laxer, Wyatt Short and Aaron Greenwood took control out of the bullpen.
Freshman shortstop Errol Robinson, with the Rebels up 5-4 and two TCU runners in scoring position, charged hard to scoop a slow roller and throw out Keaton Jones with two outs in the bottom of eighth.
"Super impressive," Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. "Great play. He was dripping with confidence as he ran off the field."
The same could be said about all the Rebels. Orvis and others stayed by the dugout after the game to revel with fans who crowded into the lower seats along the first-base line.
The question now: Can Ole Miss stick around long enough to force another overnight shipment of CWS gear? It'll be tough against Virginia, the most complete team in the field. The Cavaliers, off since Tuesday night, have played just twice in Omaha and own the crucial edge in pitching depth.
In Bracket One, Texas appears better equipped, with ace Nathan Thornhill set to pitch against Vanderbilt, to force a game Saturday for a berth in the championship series next week.
But hey, Ole Miss bucked a trend just by making it to Omaha.
Why not keep marching?