Well, it was a surprise to almost everyone not named Austin Knight.
Knight last started at catcher April 30 against Southern Miss. However, regular Will Allen has been dealing with a shoulder injury since the second game of the Louisiana-Lafayette super regional. He finally needed rest after feeling discomfort throwing earlier this week.
Knight approached his good friend and Ole Miss pitcher Aaron Greenwood at practice Tuesday. He was getting the vibe, though he didn't know for sure, that Rebel head coach Mike Bianco was going to call on him in a win-or-go-home contest in the College World Series against TCU.
"I was like, ‘I hope you do, man, we need you out there,'" Greenwood said.
Boy, did they.
Knight was 0-3 at the plate with two strikeouts in a 6-4 Ole Miss win, but his third-inning bunt set up Braxton Lee's RBI single to plate the game's first run. The Rebels ultimately tacked on five more, advancing to play Virginia tomorrow night at 7 p.m. on ESPN2, where they'll be the home team.
"Unbelievable, coming out here to Omaha and having a great game," Greenwood said of Knight. "I thought he hit the ball pretty well, big bunt in the third inning. He did awesome."
More than anything, Knight's presence behind the plate proved vital for Ole Miss. Sam Smith exited after 3.1 innings. Knight proceeded to guide Josh Laxer, Wyatt Short and Greenwood through the final 6 2/3 innings. The trio combined to allow one earned run, while striking out six and walking three.
"I thought Austin was tremendous," Bianco said. "He's terrific as a catch-and-throw guy behind the plate, and probably would have played more except Will has been so terrific. It's hard to play a game without your four-hole guy. So because Will's year has been so good, Austin just hasn't had as many opportunities."
"Really no surprise how Austin caught," Allen said. "He's been an unbelievable catcher throughout his career here. Throws a lot of guys out, blocking the ball, receiving, does a really good job. Obviously, very proud of him, but I think all of our team knew exactly what you were going to get when you put him out there. I mean, he definitely did his part and held his own. He's obviously a great catcher. He's going to be good for years to come."
Knight didn't really battle nerves. A junior, he's been through it all, for the most part, in his Ole Miss career. He played in 24 games last season, drawing two starts. He's faced pressure, too, even going so far as delivering a walk-off RBI against Rhode Island as a sophomore.
The postseason isn't new to him, either. Knight played in three of four games at the College Station Regional at Texas A&M in 2012.
"I'm a junior here now. I've been through it all," he said. "I've caught in some big games before. It's just kind of a routine. When you get out there, you just want to do the best you can."
Now the Rebels draw a Virginia team that handed them a loss Sunday in the opening round of the CWS. But as he did Thursday – answer the bell – Knight expects the same from his team in a rematch with the top-ranked Cavaliers.
"In my opinion, we're a very tough team," he said. "That's kind of been our mantra all year, having toughness. When the game's on the line, I think we're the best we can be."
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