Gatlin’s clutch hit keeps Ole Miss alive

Published 10:31 am Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ole Miss' John Gatlin (36) is mobbed by teammates following his game-winning hit against Texas Tech in the College World Series on Tuesday. Ole Miss won 2-1.

Ole Miss’ John Gatlin (36) is mobbed by teammates following his game-winning hit against Texas Tech in the College World Series on Tuesday. Ole Miss won 2-1.

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — John Gatlin has not had an easy time of it at Ole Miss.

The fifth-year senior from Tupelo only had 48 at-bats in his first season with the Rebels in 2012, after transferring from Itawamba Community College. He missed all of the 2013 season with injuries, and has struggled as a little-used backup this year.

On top of that, he was mourning the death of his grandmother Sunday night. He elected to remain with his teammates in Omaha, and on Tuesday he put his troubles aside and came up with one of the biggest hits of the Rebels’ season.

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Gatlin’s pinch single into short right field over a pulled-in, five-man infield in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Rebels a 2-1 victory over Texas Tech in an elimination game at the College World Series.

The exciting finish came after Texas Tech had tied it in the top of the ninth on a couple of steals 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) plays TCU on Thursday night in another elimination game. TCU lost 3-2 in 15 innings to Virginia on Tuesday night.

“In this ballpark everything just seems amplified — every pitch, every error, every walk, every base hit. You can feel it in this stadium because runs are such a premium here. To pull one out, to get the win column here in Omaha for the first time since 1969 is huge,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.

Texas Tech (45-20) went 0-2 in its first CWS.

“We line up to play and we want to win,” Tech coach Tim Tadlock said, “so right now 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.

Aaron Greenwood then pinch-ran for Bortles, Dominic 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.

Moreno unleashed a nasty 1-2 slider low and away that, by all rights, Gatlin would’ve done well just to foul off. Instead, he got enough of the bat on it to punch it over second base. Greenwood scored, and the celebration was on.

“We’ve done that throughout the entire season where (players) 1 through 27 contribute in some form or fashion,” Gatlin said.

No one illustrated that more than Gatlin. After missing last season with a torn labrum, he had just 29 at-bats coming into Tuesday’s game and was hitting .103.

Bianco was running out of options when he called on Gatlin. He wanted Gatlin to face the left-hander Smith but wasn’t surprised when Texas Tech brought in Moreno to set up a righty-righty matchup.

“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,” Bianco said.

Gatlin said his grandmother was on his mind after the game. He was asked by hitting coach Cliff Godwin on Sunday if he needed to return home and opted to stay in Omaha.

“I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ She’d kill me if I came home right now. But, yeah, game’s on the line like that, so much going through your head, and she was definitely a part of it,” Gatlin said. “I couldn’t think of anything else that she could be more proud of.”

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. Tech freshman starter Ryan Moseley had pitched 7 1/3 strong 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 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 in their 2-1 loss to Virginia on Sunday 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 line, allowing Sikes Orvis to score from second.

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.

College World Series on TV


7 p.m. ESPN – UC Irvine vs. Texas


7 p.m. ESPN – Ole Miss vs. TCU (Radio: 1490 AM)