Winning a championship requires a surprise hero almost without fail.
Left-hander John Gaddis had a chance to be that hero for Ole Miss on Wednesday night.
He played the role well. On another day when his teammates weren’t themselves struggling against a left-handed pitcher they might have scored enough to put Gaddis a transfer from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the spotlight.
That’s not the story we’re writing though.
Arkansas defeated Ole Miss 3-2, the Rebels’ first postseason loss. They’d won seven straight since a 3-1 loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament left great doubt whether they’d make the NCAA Tournament at all.
Gaddis gave up four hits in five innings. Two were solo home runs, the only runs he allowed.
It was an effort that could have advanced Ole Miss to the championship round of the College World Series had they figured out Arkansas left-hander Hagen Smith.
It wasn’t the first time that Smith, a freshman, had bewildered the Rebels. He had a successful start against them in Fayetteville in April.
Gaddis got to Ole Miss for the fall semester as he and Chris Washburn were the two transfer portal targets tasked with helping to rebuild a pitching staff that lost two starters in the first 58 picks of the 2021 MLB draft.
Washburn, who pitched last season at Oregon State, never quite mastered the control necessary to excel in SEC games. In 38 1-3 innings before Wednesday he’d walked 22 batters.
Gaddis at Texas A&M-CC had a 2.25 ERA in 64 innings and was second-team All-Southland Conference.
Like many mid-major college athletes Gaddis wanted to see how his game would translate to the SEC.
Sometimes the production translates really well. Sometimes it even increases. That was the case for Auburn first baseman Sonny DiChiara and Mississippi State second baseman RJ Yeager. They both saw a slight rise in batting average and home runs after coming in from Samford and Mercer.
They are the outliers, the rule exceptions.
I asked DiChiara earlier this week how many mid-major players he thought were capable of making the jump and the impact that he and Yeager did this season. Is that number 50 percent? Is it higher?
“It could be 100 percent,” DiChiara said. “I mean, if those guys want to transfer and go somewhere where they believe they can play and work hard enough they’ll be able to do it.”
That simply isn’t true.
Hard work isn’t the only answer because it isn’t the only variable.
Gaddis hasn’t loafed this season’s but his ERA has jumped to 4.40 in 43 innings.
He threw seven shutout innings with four hits no walks and eight strikeouts in a game Ole Miss eventually lost in 12 innings at UCF.
He got some big outs in SEC play, but he never reached that UCF level and didn’t retain his spot in the weekend rotation.
Transfers are more plentiful now, but they always have been and remain a gamble.
Gaddis was a good choice to start Wednesday because aggressive, hard-swinging teams like Ole Miss and Arkansas often have trouble with soft-throwing lefties. This time Ole Miss had more than Arkansas.
Gaddis successfully pitched to contact and let his defense make plays behind him.
Washburn pitched well behind him.
There just wasn’t enough support.
Now Ole Miss faces an elimination game for the first time this postseason.
Both teams will go with their CWS Game 1 guys.
For the right to advance and face Oklahoma it will be strength against strength.
No surprise there.