Hunter Elliott’s ‘lights out’ day leads Ole Miss to win over USM, trip to Omaha
OXFORD, Miss. — While highly-acclaimed Southern Miss pitcher Tanner Hall garnered most of the national attention going into the Hattiesburg Super Regional matchup with Ole Miss, and rightfully so, it was the Rebels’ pitcher Hunter Elliott who proved to be the star of game two.
“He’s had a lot of good games for us, but none better than this. He was lights out today,” head coach Mike Bianco said, describing Elliott’s day.
The Tupleo native threw seven-and-a-third innings of shutout baseball, allowing just three hits while striking out a career-high 10 batters as Ole Miss defeated Southern, 5-0, to sweep the Golden Eagles and punch the Rebs’ ticket to Omaha for the first time since 2014.
Though Elliott is a true freshman, he approached the game like a veteran.
“Early, obviously there was a lot of excitement, the crowd was really into it. Trying to get after you a little bit. A thing for me was to put up a zero in the first, trying to act like it’s another game. Pitch-by-pitch.”
Southern Miss coach Scott Berry agrees that Elliott does not play like a freshman.
“He hasn’t even broke out a razor yet. Had the mound presence of a senior. Way ahead of his time.“
Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry on Elliott
Fans may have heard Tim Elko’s mantra, “Don’t let the Rebs get hot!” And, boy, did USM let the Rebs get hot.
Ole Miss scored 15 runs in two games on what had been widely acclaimed as the No. 2 pitching staff in the nation, behind only Tennessee. Pair this with a Rebel pitching staff that held the Golden Eagles scoreless in the series, and you’ve got a definite road to success.
A huge turnaround that leads to Omaha
As many are aware, seven weeks into conference play this season, the Rebels had a record of 7-14 and it was not looking good. Many counted them out. Many said they would not even make the SEC Tournament, which takes all but the bottom two teams in the league.
Many did not give them a chance to get into the NCAA Tournament. And when they did make the postseason — as the very last team admitted — many looked at their Coral Gables Regional draw and pronounced them dead on arrival.
Fortunately, the team did not listen to any of those prognostications. And now they are going to Omaha to play in the College World Series.
There is a Rudyard Kipling quote that seems perfect for the Super Regional Champions: “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
On Sunday, Hunter Elliott was the wolf, and his strength was his pack — his group of teammates who have supported one another all year long, regardless of whether it was in the good times of being ranked No. 1 or the bad times of dropping out of the rankings, altogether.
Elliiot’s pack aided his brilliant start on the mound by scoring five runs. Then, Josh Mallitz came on in relief, pitching 1 2/3 innings as he slammed the door shut on USM, allowing no hits and no runs.
Since May 1, Mallitz has now amassed 14 1/3 scoreless innings with 21 strikeouts and just two walks.
“When you watch the confidence, the toughness — much like (Dylan) DeLucia from the other side — they just make pitches,” Coach Bianco said of his staff of pitchers.
That toughness was evident against USM as Elliott retired 16 consecutive batters between the second and seventh innings, a huge feat against one of the nation’s best teams in the Golden Eagles.
Hunter Elliott’s day is done. What a fantastic performance. Here’s @realbenmcdonald talking about the freshman phenom. #HottyToddy pic.twitter.com/EMbtLie74p
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) June 12, 2022
DeLucia and Elliott have allowed just five earned runs across 24 innings pitched in the NCAA Tournament.
Elliott’s efficiency was something to behold Sunday. He threw only 97 pitches while facing 25 batters, which averages out to just under four pitches per batter.
“My big thing going into today was to try and avoid as many three-ball counts as I can. I went back and looked and I think I had three, three-ball counts. The reason I always have a lot of traffic on the bases is because I walk a lot of guys and I’ve hit a few guys. My biggest mindset today was just flood the zone and attack them with my best stuff.”
The sky is the limit for Elliott. It has been a thrill to watch him emerge as such a dominating force on the mound. And the best part? He’s just getting started, and we can’t wait to see him on the mound in Omaha!
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
Nick Filipich was born and raised in Biloxi, MS. He is an Ole Miss alum with a degree in Sports and Recreation Administration. A sports junkie with a great passion for all things Ole Miss, Nick played baseball and football in high school — which is where he discovered his love for sports. He is an avid Braves and Saints fan, and in his free time enjoys spending time with family, friends and his black lab, Dixie.