The Ole Miss’ College World Series title is the storybook end of the wild season
The scene was always the same. The pop in the glove for the finale was followed by familiar mayhem. Gloves, hats and even sunglasses were tossed aside as the winners rushed to converge on the field. A hug became a teardown and the start of a bunch of dogs. They took out the trophy and knocked down the confetti.
Ole Miss baseball, in her decorated story, had never watched the scene except from a distance. So far.
The Rebels ended a miracle postseason and two-game sweep over Oklahoma with a 4-2 victory Sunday to clinch the College World Series title. They will relive the moment forever in Oxford. It was Brandon Johnson who took the mound after the offense took the lead with three in the eighth, hitting the side and letting out a roar as receiver Hayden Dunhurst rushed to the mound to start the dogpile.
It was a defining moment for Ole Miss, a program that had reached the World Series in Omaha, Neb., five times before but had never reached the finals, and a school that had never won an undisputed NCAA championship. team until women’s golf last year. It was a career-affirming moment for Mike Bianco, who reached the top of the mountain in his 22nd season.
And it was a storybook that ended with a turbulent and topsy-turvy season.
This Ole Miss team, as most observers know by now, was the last overall selection in the NCAA Tournament field of 64. The Rebels had been ranked No. 1 at the start of the season, but fell into the depths of a loaded SEC and needed a late push to even be considered. Once they had the chance, however, they went 10-1 in June to leapfrog to the top of the sport.
In some ways, that made sense because of the hitting pedigree. Tim Elko, Kevin Graham and Justin Bench returned as fifth-year seniors with hopes of reaching Omaha. Jacob Gonzalez looks like a surefire sophomore college pro. Dunhurst, Peyton Chatagnier and TJ McCants rounded out the lineup with timely successes.
The part that didn’t make sense was the pitching that took the day away. Junior Dylan DeLucia, the CWS’ most notable player, wasn’t a starter until April after the Rebels dropped their rotation and started again. Ditto for rookie southpaw Hunter Elliott, a freshman All-American who pitched like a wise veteran on the biggest stages.
It was DeLucia whose complete shutout against Arkansas took the Rebels to the Finals, capping a playoff series in which he went 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA in four starts. And after Jack Dougherty led a group effort in Saturday’s 10-3 win over Oklahoma in Game 1, Elliott went 6.2 innings into Sunday’s clincher to carry his workload into the playoffs. at 25.1 frames.
The Sooners held a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the eighth, but in a chaos-filled playoff, Ole Miss prevailed through a final storm. McCants and Bench hit one-out singles, and Gonzalez followed suit to tie the game. Then came two wild throws that secured the third and fourth runs as celebratory beer showers lingered in the stands.
At the time, a casual observer might have thought the match was being played at Oxford. The stadium was dominated by red and navy and powder blue. Ole Miss fans swarmed Omaha for a week and a half, leaving a lasting legacy and – perhaps – leading the state of Mississippi in fun.
There is a bar and pizzeria called Rocco’s right across from Charles Schwab Field, the downtown site of the World Series. Since 2019, the restaurant has held a “Jello Shot Challenge” where fans purchase shots on behalf of their teams, with the tally kept on a whiteboard. He was only moderately popular until fans at Mississippi State amassed 2,965 shots in the Bulldogs championship last year (second place was less than 200).
This year, the word was out and the race was on. Arkansas and Ole Miss went wild from the jump, and the Rebels took the lead after eliminating the Razorbacks on Thursday. Groups and brands were buying hundreds of shots at a time. In final numbers released Monday, Arkansas was at 8,672, roughly where it has been since elimination. Texas A&M finished third with 1,327.
Ole Miss took 18,777.
Eighteen thousand shots of Jello and more, each costing $4.50. That’s about $85,000 to prove what everyone in this state already knew — that Mississippians are college baseball mad and eager to have a good time along the way.
Now it’s back-to-back titles for two arch-rivals, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. And to underscore how wild this season has been, Southern Miss has had a better spring than either. The Golden Eagles were the No. 11 national seed, hosted the Rebels in the super regionals and enjoyed a run of success that looks set to continue into next year.
Ultimately, however, Ole Miss tells the story of a 2022 college baseball season that rejected normality at every turn. The defending MSU champion finished last in the SEC. Tennessee looked like a juggernaut until it wasn’t. Four unranked teams reached Omaha and three of them reached the semi-finals. So of course the last team on the field became the last team standing.
Oxford has waited decades to see the Rebels rack up and hoist this trophy, and it has come when we least expected it. It’s the wild game of baseball working its magic again.