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Ole Miss Baseball is the National Champion: A Look Back at the Most Remarkable Season

Ole Miss Baseball is the National Champion: A Look Back at the Most Remarkable Season

OXFORD, Miss. — There are simply no words to describe the feeling of being National Champions.

If someone would have told me in February that the Ole Miss baseball team would win it all… I actually would have believed them. A team that returned most players from the team that was one win away from Omaha just a season ago…it seemed logical.

Here’s a look back at how this magical season unfolded.

A look back

Ole Miss began the season by winning eight of its first 16 games via the ten-run rule. The Rebels ascended to the top of the national rankings, albeit against non-conference opponents, but it was still impressive. 

Conference play started on the road March 17th at Auburn, where Ole Miss took care of business, winning two-of-three from the Tigersand putting up 33 runs that weekend. 

Next up was Tennessee. I can vividly remember looking at the stats of all SEC teams before the first weekend of conference play. Ole Miss and Tennessee were in the top two in almost every offensive category. I figured the series versus the Volunteers at home would be a good indication of what direction this team’s season was heading. 

Tennessee came to Oxford on March 25th and punched the Rebels in the mouth for three straight games. The Vols then packed their bags and headed back to Knoxville. At the time, it felt a little bit like Ole Miss was back to square one. The starting rotation had yet to be figured out and the bats had gone cold.

The Rebs went to Lexington to take on Kentucky, April 1-3. This was the start of something that obviously ended up being one of the big keys to winnings the National Championship; that was the weekend both Dylan DeLuca and Hunter Elliott were inserted into their roles of Friday and Saturday starters, respectively. Ole Miss took that series, 2-1, over the Wildcats. and was 4-5 in conference play.

Before the next weekend’s matchup with the visiting Tide, the Rebels played Southern Miss in a mid-week game down in Pearl. That game went back and forth, ending in the Golden Eagles’ favor, 10-7.

On the weekend of April 8-10, Ole Miss had a great opportunity to take at least two games from Alabama at home, which would have put the Rebels at 6-6 in SEC play. But it didn’t work out that way, as the Tide swept Ole Miss at home, leaving fans of the Red and Blue scratching their heads.

Next up in league play would be South Carolina on April 14-16. DeLucia pitched a phenomenal game one and put the team in a good spot to take the series in Columbia.

But the Gamecocks won games two and three, placing Ole Miss squarely in hole with a record of 5-10 in the SEC. A this point, the Rebels still had 15 games remaining. There was still time left right the ship, but time was starting to run out. 

What happened next felt like something akin to a knife in the gut. Ole Miss dropped a mid-week game to Southeast Missouri by a score of 13-3, at home no less. 

And to make matters tougher, another weekend in the SEC loomed with Mississippi State coming to town April 21-23.

DeLucia, again, was brilliant. He pitched a complete game against the in-state rival Bulldogs, propelling the Rebs to a 4-2 win. With game one in the bag, Ole Miss was in striking distance of winning its first home SEC series of 2022. 

But the Rebels would drop game two of the series, 10-7. The rubber game was a heartbreaker as Ole Miss lost to State, 7-6, in extra innings. 

It was April 23 and the Rebels were now sitting at 6-12 in conference play. Would they even make the SEC tournament? They still had some time on the clock, but it was growing shorter with each weekend series. 

Next up was a trip to Fayetteville. On April 29, DeLucia gave the Rebs a third straight win in a row, 4-2, and a chance to take the series.

But, again, Ole Miss lost games two and three, putting the Rebels at that often-recalled, much-dreaded, 7-14 mark in SEC play on May 1.

Truly, it seemed all but over for this team. Chances of making the post-season looked grim. 

But the Rebs weren’t going down without a fight!

The Rebs Get Hot

What happens next, as you probably know, is…..THE REBS GOT HOT. Ole Miss swept Missouri at home on May 6-8, prompting captain Tim Elko to issue his prophetic “Don’t let the Rebs get hot!” statement.

They did, indeed get hot, as they then went down to Hattiesburg and beat No. 11 Southern Miss, 4-1, in a mid-week game. 

The Rebels followed those fireworks up with a sweep that weekend of LSU at Alex Box. That marked the first time in Ole Miss history the Rebels swept the Tigers in Baton Rouge. We didn’t know it yet, but history was in the making.

Texas A&M would then come to Oxford for the final three games of the regular season. The Rebs were only able to take one game but when the dust settled, Ole Miss had indeed made the SEC tournament in Hoover, sitting at 14-16 in league play.

Their trip to Hoover didn’t last long as the Rebels dropped a win-or-go-home game to Vanderbilt, 3-1, on May 24th in the opening round. Then, the postseason waiting game began. 

Would the NCAA selection committee enter a team in the tournament who went 14-16 in SEC play? The answer to that question, in Ole Miss’ case, was “yes, barely,” as the Rebels were the last team in — at No. 64 out of 64. 

Ole Miss found itself as the No. 3 seed in the Coral Cables Regional, but the Rebels didn’t care. All they needed was a chance. And, boy, did they take advantage of it. 

Coach Bianco’s bunch took the opportunity and ran with it, going 3-0 in the Regional. They defeated No. 2-seed Arizona, No. 1-seed Miami and then beat Arizona, again, en route to punching their ticket to play Southern Miss in Hattiesburg in the Super Regionals.

With all due respect to Southern Miss, the Rebs went to Hattiesburg and shut out the No. 10 Golden Eagles in two games, 10-0 and 5-0.

Behind two brilliant starts from Dylan DeLucia and Hunter Elliott, the Rebs were on their way to Omaha.

One of the reasons three-time Ole Miss captain Tim Elko came back for another year was a trip to Omaha. But merely getting to Omaha was only half of the story; the Rebs weren’t done just yet. 

Rebs are hot in Omaha

Again, with terrific starts from DeLucia and Elliott, Ole Miss went 2-0 to start the College World Series. First, the Rebels defeated Auburn 5-1.

 They defeated Arkansas, 13-5, in game two of the CWS. 

The third game was a tough one, as Arkansas rebounded to beat the Rebels, 3-2, putting Ole Miss on the brink of elimination. 

But the Rebels didn’t blink. On four days rest, Dylan DeLucia came out and pitched his tail off. He threw a complete-game shoutout in a win-or-go-home game, defeating the Hogs, 2-0, and sending Ole Miss to the CWS Finals.

DeLucia’s performance is arguably one of the best in Ole Miss sports history, especially given the stakes.

Showdown at Charles Schwab

It all came down to this. A best-of-three series for the right to be the last team standing. There was just one team in the way of the Rebs being crowned national champion: Oklahoma.

I’d like to take a moment to point out how truly incredible it was to have Oklahoma and Ole Miss both playing for a national title after each fought their way through the postseason without hosting a regional or a super regional.

In game one of a series of such magnitude, ideally the Rebels would want their ace, Dylan DeLucia, on the mound. But with DeLucia just having just thrown a complete game, that truly wasn’t an option. So, then they would likely look next to Hunter Elliott—but, nope, he wasn’t quite ready on short rest, either. 

Coach Bianco had other plans and knew just what to do. He handed Jack Dougherty the ball for the game one start vs. the Sooners. Boy, did Dougherty make that decision look outstanding! The sophomore went on to throw five perfect innings.

He then handed the ball off to Mason Nichols who held the game intact. Josh Mallitz then came in and slammed the door shut on Oklahoma, putting Ole Miss one win away from a national title after a 10-3 victory over the Sooners. 

Back-to-back-to-back

For many of us, besides the phenomenal pitching, the turning point of that first game against the Sooners was TJ McCants’ homer that put the Rebs up 6-2 in the top of the eighth. As will go down in Rebel lore for eternity, this was just the first of three home runs for the Red and Blue.

We then saw Calvin Harris and Justin Bench follow with home runs of their own that put Ole Miss up 8-2 and all but sealed the victory. 

That is a moment I’ll never forget — beers showers at Charles Schwab Field with the Rebs on their way to a national championship game the next day. 

Winning it all

Game two was upon us that Sunday morning. Hunter Elliott was starting, and everyone was feeling it. I sent a text in my Rebel Walk group chat with Evie Vanpelt, Chris Muller, and Austin Eldridge that said, “Today is the day!!!” 

That game had me…and I’m sure everyone else…on the edge of our seats. 

With their ace, Cade Horton, on the mound, Oklahoma was a tough adversary.

In the sixth inning, it looked as if the Sooners were about to take a 1-0 lead in the game, but thank goodness for instant replay, right? Coach Bianco saw on the Jumbotron that Oklahoma runner going to first apparently had stepped out of the base path, meaning he was out and the runner who had scored from third would have to return to third with no run scoring.

After review, the Sooners’ run was indeed taken off the board and it was again 0-0. It felt like it was time for the Rebs to make something happen — as they had all postseason. 

In the bottom of the sixth, Jacob Gonzalez got a good swing off and smacked a ball out of the yard to give Ole Miss a 1-0 lead. The second I saw that ball leave the bat, I stood up, put my hands in the air — and felt bit of relief. 

But I knew one run would not be enough against a team as talented as Oklahoma — and that was correct. The Sooners added a run of their own in the top of the seventh, and everyone was again back on the edge of their seats. 

Then, Oklahoma added yet another run to take a 2-1 lead. Nervous yet? 

John Gaddis entered the game for the Rebels and ended that seventh inning with a strikeout to get the Rebs out a jam. He then got through the top of the eighth without giving up a run, and Ole Miss trailed 2-1 as the Rebs headed to the bottom of the frame.

The Rebels had Dunhurst, McCants, and Bench due up in that bottom of the eighth. All three of them were hitless to that point, but everyone knew it was just a matter of time before one of them remedied that. 

All we needed was a base hit with the best part of our lineup coming along behind them. Sure enough, with one out McCants laced a ball up the middle for a single and turned things over to the top of the lineup. 

Oklahoma then made a move to the bullpen, something I had been hoping for all game. I wanted their ace Cade Horton out of the game. Bench was up next, and he singled and advanced TJ to third, bringing up Gonzalez, who already had a single and homer on the day. 

It felt the right guy was at the plate at the right time. Gonzo continued his hot day at the plate and singled into right field, advancing Bench to third and scoring McCants from third. This tied the game at 2-2!

The Rebs simply looked as if they were on a mission and wouldn’t be denied. 

Bench would score on a wild pitch, giving the Rebs the 3-2 lead.

Then, Elko would ground out, advancing Gonzalez to third in the process, after he advanced to second on the wild pitch that scored Bench. 

Another wild pitch scored Gonzo, and Ole Miss owned a 4-2 lead! 

It wasn’t a comfortable lead, but it felt more than good enough for closer Brandon Johnson to come out and take the mound to get the final three outs. A two-run cushion was more than enough for Johnson.

He struck out the side, and OLE MISS BECAME THE 2022 NCAA BASEBALL NATIONAL CHAMPION with the 4-2 win. 

WOW!!! 

One of the very best feelings in the world was watching the Rebels dogpile on the field in Omaha. I wasn’t surprised they won it all, it was the way they did that was so amazing. They romped through the NCAA tournament, going 10-1 on their title run. 

Like I said earlier, I knew this team had a national title in it back in the beginning of the season. For a while it looked bleak, but the Rebs prevailed and made it to the top of the mountain. They got knocked down, but they kept getting back up. They faltered but they never gave up faith. 

After the game, Coach Bianco commented on his team, their perseverance, and the victory.

It’s hard to put into words to be honest. This team, what a neat job I have to be around these guys. Just great kids, great representatives of our university, they play this game at a very high level, they’re just good guys. We’ve had great leadership and just to watch them do this, I’ve shared this with them several times now: Life’s tough. There’s bad things that happen to everybody. These guys worked really hard and I think they’ve showed a lot of people that you can fall down, you can stumble and you can fail but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. You continue to work hard, you continue to push, you continue to believe, you can accomplish anything. That’s not some poster, or some tweet to motivate you. We’ve all heard that. These guys have lived that this season. They really have. They’ve fallen down and not a lot of people believed they were any good anymore, a lot of people may have been disappointed in them, and I get that. It’s sports and that’s part of it. But they didn’t let that affect them. They continued to believe in one another, they continued to push, and I think that’s why you had 20,000 plus fans show up here because this was a special group. During the trophy presentation, I think this stadium holds 25,000 and it still looked packed, that’s how many fans we had here. So this group of young men I think people have fallen in love with them. Their story and where they’ve come from, they’ve had a lot of people rooting for them… I’m just very fortunate to have been a part of it.

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco

Being in Omaha was the trip of a lifetime, and this story of Ole Miss baseball’s first-ever national title will never be forgotten. 

Hotty Toddy!

(Feature image credit: Amanda Swain, The Rebel Walk)

Nick Filipich
Nick Filipich

Nick Filipich was born and raised in Biloxi, MS. He is an Ole Miss senior majoring 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.

About The Author

Nick Filipich

Nick Filipich was born and raised in Biloxi, MS. He is an Ole Miss senior majoring 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.

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