By Arnie Leshin
Auburn was not having fun, its baseball team hadn’t won a College World Series game since 1997, it was in the midst of the 2022 Elite Eight in Omaha, Neb., and was need of a win. It had lost once in the double-elimination tournament and once more would send it back to its campus in Alabama. Season over.
And so it was a very important Sunday afternoon when the 14th-seeded Tigers sharpened their claws to face 2nd-seeded Stanford also on the brink of elimination. The Cardinal had been dominated by unseeded Arkansas, 17-2, and Auburn suffered a not as humiliating 5-1 loss to Ole Miss.
Stanford batted last with a run each in the first and second innings, and maintained the advantage five innings in a tight pitching duel, and with temperatures in the 90s at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Neb. But with the bases full with no out in the bottom of the sixth, Bello walked on a 3-2 count to cut the gap to 2-1 and up stepped Rambusch, who was knocked out in practice by the heat the previous day and looked a little wobbly.
He said a few words to head coach Brooks Johnson before he strolled to the plate, then kept wiping his forehead. On a 1-2 count he drove a fastball to the fence in the left-center field to clear the bases and bring a 4-2 lead. Johnson said he dashed to second, his regular position, and dropped his head as he reached the base. The Tigers players were cheering, Johnson was clapping his hands coaching third, and Rambusch was silent with just his hands on his hips
The inning ended with him on second and he asked Johnson to keep in the field. As ill as he was, it was still a special moment for Rambusch, now a senior who had required knee surgery as a sophomore and also had an elbow injury as a junior. With two out in the seventh of the next frame, up came Rambusch with a straight face, all business, and with two out and runners on second and third, actually laid down a hard bunt that bounded past the third baseman and in sped the two insurance runs that amounted to a remarkable 6-2 victory.
Packing was Stanford of the PAC-12 and remaining in the hunt were the Tigers of the Southeastern Conference.
“He was feeling better after the game in the airconditioned locker room,” said Johnson in regard to Rambusch, and as sick as he was, really came through for us. When we dressed and exited the locker room, his parents were standing there waiting for him and he was all smiles.”
And back in the hunt were the Tigers.
In the second game in late afternoon, Ole Miss, unseeded and the other team besides 2-0, unseeded Oklahoma
that hadn’t lost, was taking the field against unseeded Arkansas of the SEC and emerged with a 10-2 triumph that dropped the Razorbacks to 1-1.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma, which has gotten past Texas A & M and unseeded Notre Dame, is now a win away from gaining a spot in the best-of-three finals that will determine the new winner. Last year’s champion was Mississippi State of the SEC over conference rival Vanderbilt. It could be another Mississippi school getting the trophy again, but it could also be the first time one school has won both the Division I softball and baseball national championships the same year, and that’s Oklahoma.
Also left are the Fighting Irish at 1-1, eliminated are Texas and Stanford.