Former Buchholz standout Will Allen leads Ole Miss to CWS
Published: Friday, June 13, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 6:46 p.m.
After Ole Miss clinched its first College World Series appearance in 42 years, senior catcher Will Allen found himself in a precarious position.
Shorty after the final pitch of the Rebels’ 10-4 deciding Super Regional win over Louisiana-Lafayette, Ole Miss celebrated with a dogpile. Allen, a Gainesville native and former Buchholz High standout, was at the bottom of the human pyramid.
“At the time, it was a little stressful because you can’t breathe and I’m claustrophobic,” Allen said. “But it was awesome. Definitely, well worth all the wait.”
For Allen, this weekend’s College World Series appearance is the culmination of four years of hard work. He’s saved his best season for last. Allen is batting .345 as a senior with 7 home runs, 61 RBIs and 23 doubles. With Ole Miss facing elimination in Game 2 of its Super Regional against UL-L, Allen sparked the offense with an early RBI double in a 5-2 win.
“He’s had an unbelievable year,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “Not just at the plate, but behind the plate. He’s caught terrific. ... He’s terrific handling the pitchers … an All-American.”
But it took some humbling moments before Allen bounced back to help lead Ole Miss to postseason glory. During an injury-filled junior season, Allen lost his starting job behind the plate to Stuart Turner, a junior college transfer. Turner went on to win the Johnny Bench Award, given to the nation’s top college catcher, before being picked in the third round by the Minnesota Twins in the 2013 June Amateur draft.
Allen was battling shin splits and had an inflamed wrist ligament, which contributed to a subpar junior season at the plate. Playing mostly designated hitter, Allen batted just .231.
“Things weren’t going my way in my junior year, so I kind of just re-dedicated myself,” Allen said.
That re-dedication included Allen spending both summer sessions on campus in Oxford, Miss., where he got his injuries treated while working on his strength and conditioning. He often called Ole Miss hitting coach Cliff Godwin for impromptu batting practice sessions.
“I’d call him midnight some nights and he’d throw BP to us,” Allen said.
Mentally, Allen said it was just a case of regaining his confidence. The Sun’s 2010 high school baseball of the year, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Allen was labeled as a can’t-miss recruit coming out of high school. He also was offered a scholarship to Florida, but with catcher Mike Zunino still on UF’s roster, opted to go to Ole Miss for a chance at more immediate playing time.
“One thing the coaching staff told me was to come in and play with the confidence you did in high school,” Allen said. “We knew you were one of the best players on the field, in the state, in the country. Go out there and play with that kind of swagger of confidence.”
Allen started his senior season with two home runs and 10 RBIs in a series at Stetson and hasn’t let up since. After sitting behind the Bench Award winner last year, Allen is a Bench Award finalist this season. He also was recently named a third-team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
“My coaches did an unbelievable job giving me that confidence,” Allen said. “They talked me up, even in the fall when everybody is really focused on football and nobody is really listening to baseball, they would just tell me and the team that this would be the team that gets to Omaha.”
Allen said he’s received countless congratulations on social media, from friends and fans of the Ole Miss program. He’s allotted six tickets for this weekend in Omaha.
“My family gets first dibs,” Allen said. “My mom and dad, my sister and her fiance are going to be out there. From there, we’ll see what happens.”
Allen received more good news last weekend when he found out he was drafted in the 13th round of the June amateur draft by the Detroit Tigers. His professional baseball odyssey will begin after his college career ends. For now, though, Allen said his focus is trying to help lead Ole Miss to its first baseball national title in school history. Ole Miss opens College World Series play on Sunday at 8 p.m. against Virginia.
“A bunch of our guys found out about being drafted (during the Lafayette series),” Allen said. “We had a meeting and said we just had to put that on the back burner and play out the rest of the season and try to get to the College World Series and win a national championship. That just speaks to the focus level of his team.”