NCAA Tournament

Corky Palmer: Hall of Fame coach, Hall of Fame character


Corky Palmer: Hall of Fame coach, Hall of Fame character

In 2009, retiring Southern Miss coach Corky Palmer waved goodbye to his fans at the College World Series in Omaha. (Photo by George Clark)

Some days you remember for a lifetime. Here’s a memory from 61 years ago, the day I met Corky Palmer, the future Hall of Fame Southern Miss baseball coach who died Wednesday at 68 after a prolonged illness.

Corky was 7, and I was 8. Future college and NBA basketball coach Tim Floyd — he was still Timmy at age 7 — had invited Corky, my brother Bobby and me the Floyds’ house on Mamie Street in Hattiesburg for a backyard baseball game.

“You’re gonna really like my new friend, Corky,” Timmy had told me. “He’s a good ballplayer, and you aren’t going to believe the way he talks. He’s more country than Gomer (Pyle).”

Rick Cleveland

So we started playing ball, Bobby and I against Timmy and Corky, a chunky little guy with a round face, baggy shorts and a crewcut. Early on, Bobby hit a sharp ground ball right at Corky, who bent over to catch it, only to have it go right through his legs. Six decades later, the scene is as vivid as it was comical. Corky stayed bent over and watched through his legs as the ball kept going into some hedges. When Cork looked back up, his eyes were as big around as donuts. He really could not believe he had missed it. 

“Well, I’ll be a sardine sandwich!” Corky shouted before turning around and retrieving the ball.

Corky did not miss many balls that day, nor any day we played baseball from then on, which was a lot. Corky became a catcher, a damned good one. He was a sports junkie, but first and foremost he was a baseball guy, just like his daddy, who everyone knew as Punchy Palmer.

Punchy Palmer, a former star all-around athlete Hattiesburg High, was a fixture at baseball parks around Hattiesburg. Didn’t matter whether one of his sons was playing or not. If baseball was being played in Hattiesburg, Punchy Palmer was there. And he was always dispensing homespun baseball wisdom to anyone who would listen — and you were crazy if you didn’t because Punchy knew his stuff. 

Corky soaked in all that knowledge and went on to become a catcher for Hattiesburg High and then on to Southern Miss, where he caught for Pete Taylor’s ballclubs in the mid 1970s. He was a solid hitter but he was a marvelous catcher. He really was like a coach on the field.

Doug Munn was Southern’s ace pitcher for much of that time. “Corky caught me for four years and back then we called our own pitches,” Munn said Wednesday. “I don’t think I shook him off once in the entire four seasons. We were always on the same wave length. 

“Corky was a joy to pitch to, just a great receiver. He was framing pitches back before that was a thing. I never worried about bouncing a breaking pitch, because Cork blocked everything. Nothing got by him. More importantly, he was a great friend and such a super quality person. Corky was just the best.”

Some folks are meant to be doctors or lawyers or teachers. Corky Palmer was meant to be a baseball coach. He knew it. Everybody who knew him knew it. There was never a doubt.

Corky Palmer at Rosenblatt, 1999.

He steadily moved up the coaching ladder one rung at a time from small-town high schools, to bigger high schools, to Meridian Community College where his teams became a national powerhouse and won 409 games while losing just 160. He moved to Southern Miss as an assistant coach under fellow Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Hill Denson in 1997 and then became the head coach the next year. Over the next 12 seasons Southern Miss won 458 games and lost 281. His teams qualified for eight NCAA Regionals, including seven straight.

He announced his retirement in April of 2009 with his injury plagued team seemingly going nowhere. And then it happened. Much like this past season, the Golden Eagles got hotter than Mississippi asphalt in August. A late season win streak vaulted them into the as a 3-seed. Then they won a regional at Georgia Tech. Then they won a Super Regional at Florida. And then they went to Omaha for what remains Southern Miss’ only appearance in the College World Series. 

At Omaha, Palmer won over the national media with that same countrified twang and witticisms that blew away Timmy Floyd, my brother and me when we were little boys. The ESPN announcers and all the national writers were smitten.

Mighty Texas outlasted Southern Miss in a first round in a 7-6 heartbreaker. The next day at practice, Palmer told everyone he was going to pitch J.R. Ballinger in an elimination game against North Carolina.  He pointed to a light pole in centerfield. “You see that big ol’ light pole out there,” Corky said. “If I asked Jimmy Ray Ballinger to go out there and climb that light pole right now, he’d be out there in seconds shimmying up that pole. He wouldn’t ask why, he wouldn’t ask anything. He’d just go out there and find a way to climb that big ol’ pole. I don’t know how he’ll do against North Carolina. They are a great hitting club. But I do know this: Jimmy Ray is going to give me everything he’s got. I love that boy. He’s what I call a company man. He’s a country boy, so you know me and him get along.”

Well, North Carolina got the best of Jimmy Ray and Southern Miss. But Corky Palmer’s last game as a baseball coach was in Omaha at the College World Series. How splendid is that?

Joe Paul, Southern Miss interim president and a close friend of Palmer’s spoke for thousands when he issued this statement Wednesday: “The University of Southern Mississippi family mourns the loss today of Golden Eagle baseball coaching icon Corky Palmer. While our hearts break at the notion of his special presence not being with us, we do take solace that he has moved from suffering to a rightful and well-earned eternal peace. I am fortunate to have been blessed to claim Corky as my Southern Miss classmate and my friend. His impact on generations of young men ripples out in to the world of baseball and beyond. Corky was definitely one of a kind, and we will honor and cherish his memory here at Southern Miss always…”

As it happens, Tim Floyd and I were together Wednesday when we received the , which was expected but nonetheless painful to hear.

There were several moments of silence. But before long we were telling Corky stories, smiling because how could you not when talking about such a memorable character and friend.

Tim summed it up pretty perfectly: “Corky lived his dream and he lived it in his hometown doing what he loved. What’s more, he touched countless people while he was doing it. Think about it. When you get right down to it, how many people can say that?”

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Ole Miss/ Pearl River Central alum Hayden Dunhurst drafted in 6th round by KC Royals

Biloxi - Local News Feed Images 001 – Jeff Haeger – 2022-07-18 22:00:36

Fresh off his national championship with less than a month ago, Pearl River Central alum Hayden Dunhurst getting the call in the sixth round, 175th overall, courtesy of the Kansas City Royals with a slot value of more than $298,000.

Perhaps the unsung hero of the Rebels’ College World Series as the primary backstop for a red-hot pitching staff that allowed only 25 runs in 11 games.


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Ole Miss Head Baseball Coach Mike Bianco named National Coach of the Year

133 views – Jeff Haeger – 2022-06-28 22:03:20

Coach of the Year awards can sometimes be subjective, but in the case of skipper , who nearly watched the entire from the seat of his couch, there was really only one clear option.

Today, Bianco named National Coach of the Year courtesy of Collegiate Baseball, fresh off leading his school to their first-ever College World Series crown.

It’s his second time in three years to win the…

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Ole Miss, Mike Bianco could soon complete amazing journey


One more win: Ole Miss, Mike Bianco could soon complete an amazing journey

(25) celebrates as he runs toward home, as he was driven in by Kevin Graham against Oklahoma during the first inning of the first game of the NCAA College World Series championship series (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

OMAHA — The , a team going nowhere in early May, has surged its way to within one victory of a National Championship in June.

And a coach who many wanted to fire two months ago keeps pushing all the right buttons and pulling all the right strings – game after game after game, victory after victory after victory.

Rick Cleveland

’s Ole Miss Rebels combined excellent pitching from perhaps unexpected sources with a four-home power show in an 10-3 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners Saturday night. The two teams play again Sunday at 2 p.m. If Ole Miss wins, one of the most remarkable turnarounds in college baseball history will be complete.

You could not make this stuff up.

Surely, you know the story by now: Ole Miss, 22-17 overall and 7-14 in the SEC on the first day of May, has won 19 of 25 since. The Rebels have won 9 of 10 in this . And now it seems much of Mississippi has migrated here to see if the Rebels can finish living what once seemed an impossible dream. Ole Miss fans turned Charles Schwab Field into Swayze North.

There were so many heroes on the field Saturday night, but let’s start with one in the dugout, the one who has worn No. 5 for the past 22 years.

Mike Bianco chose sophomore Jack Dougherty to make only his fourth start of 2022, giving freshman sensation Hunter Elliott another day of rest. Hmmm, skeptics wondered, how will this turn out? Dougherty, making his first start in three months, answered that question with five perfect innings.

Then, when Dougherty ran into some trouble in the sixth and with a three-run lead in serious jeopardy, Bianco brought in 19-year-old true freshman Mason Nichols, instead of Josh Mallitz who has been only sensational of late. Hmmmm, again. But Nichols made his coach look like a wizard, working out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam to allow only one run. Then in two innings of heroic work, Mallitz gave up no hits and struck out five after coming in in the eighth inning to finish off the Sooners.

The decision to start Dougherty?

“Oklahoma is such a patient team that takes a lot of walks,” Bianco said. “I thought we needed someone to throw strikes and get ahead and I thought Dougherty was the best option.”

The decision to go with Nichols, instead of Mallitz? “I thought it was a little early to go with Mallitz,” Bianco said. “We still had 12 outs to get. And Nichols was the one up and ready. Mallitz was not ready at that point.”

What Nichols, a just-turned-19-year-old, did came at what was surely the most critical juncture of the game – or as Bianco put it, “That was the game right there.”

Nichols was facing the middle of the powerful Oklahoma batting order. Any butterflies, Mason? “Yes sir, I had plenty of butterflies,” Nichols answered. “I just tried to focus and do my job.”

Mission accomplished.

Thousands upon thousands of Rebel fans, mostly wearing powder blue, cheered every Rebel strike and went bonkers on four home runs, especially the three that were back-to-back-to back in the eighth inning. First TJ McCants, then Calvin Harris and finally Justin Bench all slugged home runs, the first time that has ever happened at Charles Schwab Field. Harris clobbered his 430 feet, by far the longest of the night.

Oh, and did I mention that McCants’ homer came one inning after Bianco inserted him into the game for defensive purposes? It did.

Keep in mind, Oklahoma had won three straight games here at Omaha and none of those were really close. The Sooners had won four straight to win the Big 12 Conference. They won three of four to win a regional at Florida. They won two of three to win a Super Regional at West Virginia. That’s 12 of their last 14 – all against top-shelf competition. They were hot.

So were the Rebels, but Oklahoma seemingly had a clear advantage in that the Sooners had their ace, strapping left-hander Jake Bennett, fresh and ready to go against Ole Miss, while the Rebels had to use their ace Dylan DeLucia to beat Arkansas Thursday night to get to the championship series.

That advantage was negated by Dougherty – and perhaps also by the thousands upon thousands of Ole Miss fans.

“It felt like a football game out there,” Bianco said. “I mean Swayze gets loud but not loud like that.”

Those fans had plenty to cheer from the start. The Rebels went on top 2-0 in the first, added a run in the second and then another in the third on Tim Elko’s 24th home run of the year.

Oklahoma, which was hitting .303 with 19 home runs in the NCAA Tournament, never really stemmed that Ole Miss momentum. Now, the Sooners are in a win-or-else situation on Sunday. Said Sooner coach Skip Johnson, “We woke up today needing two victories to win the national championship. We’ll wake tomorrow needing two victories to win the national championship.”

Ole Miss will wake up Sunday morning needing one victory for a national championship. Said Elko, “We’ve still got one game to win. It’s obviously great to win the first one, but we still have to get one more to win the whole thing.”

The Rebels have their aces Hunter Elliott (Sunday) and Dylan DeLucia (Monday, if needed). Really, they could not be in a better situation.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Where does this Ole Miss baseball run rank in school history?


A historical perspective: Where does this Ole Miss baseball run rank in school history?

OMAHA — So, several folks have asked two interesting questions in the last 24 hours.

Where does making the national championship at this College World Series rank in importance in sports history? Where does Dylan’s DeLucia’s Thursday night shutout of Arkansas rank among greatest individual athletic performances in Ole Miss history?

Rick Cleveland

Good questions, both. Let’s take the question about DeLucia first. Keep in mind, my earliest sports memories go back to the late 1950s. Long-ago legends Bruiser Kinard, Chunkin’ Charlie Conerly and Donnie Kessinger — among others — likely did something to rival DeLucia’s heroics. I cannot speak to that.

In my memory, precious few individual efforts even rival that of DeLucia’s. I’ll give you three: 

1) Archie Manning’s remarkable 540-yard performance in the 1969 Alabama-Ole Miss game, the first nationally televised primetime (night) college football game. Alabama won the game 33-32, but Manning stole the show setting a total offense record that stood for decades. 

2) Gerald Glass’ 53-point effort in a 113-12 overtime basketball victory over LSU in 1989, made all the more special because native Mississippian Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (then Chris Jackson) scored 55 for LSU.

3) Future Major Leaguer Drew Pomeranz, in the 2009 Regional and Super Regional, pitched heroically three times in eight days, striking out 36 batters in 24 innings, throwing 384 pitches, while allowing just 14 hits and three runs.

Just my opinion: DeLucia’s four-hit shutout victory over Arkansas on short rest shoots to the top of the charts. That’s mainly because of the circumstances, including that this was the most important game in 129 years of Ole Miss baseball and the strong national championship implications on the College World Series stage. You know what happened: With the season and national championship hopes on the line, DeLucia never allowed a Razorback runner past second base and went to a three-ball count on only three batters. Ole Miss won 2-0.

I should point out that 25 years ago, a baseball effort would never have even entered into this conversation. A baseball performance, no matter how impressive, would not have been considered. College baseball was once a spring-time afterthought attended by sparse crowds with virtually no television coverage whatsoever. That DeLucia’s performance clearly belongs in this conversation speaks to the growth of college baseball and its relative importance on the Mississippi sports scene. Baseball, more than ever before, matters.

So back to the original question: Where does the Rebels making it to the championship series of the 2022 College World Series rank among achievements in Ole Miss sports history?

I asked a good friend, an avid Ole Miss fan of all sports, who is a couple years into his ninth decade on this planet. “Damned high,” celebrated journalist and inveterate Rebel fan Curtis Wilkie answered. “I think you might have to go back to 1959 for anything that would match it.”

Wilkie speaks of the 1959 LSU-Ole Miss football game on Halloween night and the rematch in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. Ole Miss lost the regular season game – and the national championship – 7-3 on Billy Cannon’s fabled punt return and then won the Sugar Bowl 21-0. 

Ole Miss has played in Sugar Bowls since, made it to an NCAA Sweet 16 in basketball, beaten Alabama in a couple times in recent years in high-profile college football games. Ole Miss has won a women’s golf national championship, and two individuals, Devin Britton in tennis and Braden Thornberry in golf, have won individual NCAA National Championships.

Again, making the 2022 national championship series very much belongs in the first sentence of this discussion of ultimate Ole Miss sports achievements because of the circumstances. Seven weeks ago, this Ole Miss team was going nowhere and many Ole Miss diehards were calling for a coaching change. Since then, the Rebels have won 18 of 24 games overall and eight of nine in this .

You could make the case that the LSU football games in the 1959 season – 63 years ago – were as meaningful. But just the fact that we need to go back that far speaks to the significance of what these current Ole Miss baseball Rebels have achieved.

Yes, and over the next two or three days, these baseball Rebels could put an exclamation point on the end of this discussion. With two more victories, there would be no doubt.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Podcast: Omaha magic – Mississippi Today


Podcast: Omaha magic

Coral Gables, Hattiesburg, Omaha. The site seems to make no difference to the red-hot , who have now won seven games, mostly by lopsided scores. The Clevelands caught up with , and to talk about the Rebels’ latest and most important conquest, the Monday night victory over Arkansas, which kept in the winners’ bracket and sent the Razorbacks to the losers’ bracket. Ole Miss is now three victories away from a national championship.

Stream all episodes here.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Ole Miss now 7-0 in the NCAA Tournament after beating Arkansas Monday

160 views – WXXV Staff – 2022-06-21 17:51:52

baseball defeated Arkansas 13-5 last night in a winners bracket up matchup. Ole Miss and Oklahoma are the only undefeated teams remaining in the College World Series.

Ole Miss jumped on the Razorback pitching early, plating at least two runs in four of the first five innings. Every player reached base and four players had two or more hits. The bats were on fire led by tanks from Captain and Calvin…

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Arkansas marked the low point for Rebs. Now the Hogs stand in their way


Arkansas marked the low point for Rebs. Now the Hogs stand in their way

, shown here pitching against Miami in the an NCAA Regional will get the biggest start of his life and one of the3 biggest in Ole Miss history Monday night at th3e College World Series. (Associated Press)

OMAHA — There’s a term baseball coaches often use about their teams: “coming full circle.” It’s usually a good thing. With Ole Miss, it’s better than good. When used the term Sunday morning before a practice at Creighton University, “full circle” was more like baseball Nirvana.

As has been well-documented, Ole Miss has been to baseball hell and back in one season.

Rick Cleveland

Think about it. On May 1, Bianco’s Rebels left Fayetteville having lost tough games to the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday and Sunday. The defeats dropped the Rebels to 7-14 in the Southeastern Conference and 22-17 overall. They didn’t have their backs to the wall, so much as they were locked behind an impenetrable wall with seemingly no way out and precious little oxygen left to breathe.

Since then, Ole Miss has won 14 of 17. The Rebels are a perfect 6-0 in the , the only team in the tournament that has not suffered a single defeat. They are one of four teams still undefeated in the College World Series. They have out-scored NCAA competition 51-12. They are on the proverbial roll.

So, now, who do they play in the most important game an Ole Miss baseball team has played in decades?

Arkansas, that’s who. Full circle. The winner of Monday night’s 6 p.m. all-SEC matchup will be one victory away from the CWS best-of-three championship series. The loser drops into the losers’ bracket and must win three straight games without losing to reach the championship series.

If Ole Miss is the hottest team in the tournament – and the numbers say the Rebels are – then the Razorbacks are close behind. The Hogs have won four straight and Saturday afternoon crushed Stanford, the highest seeded team in the CWS, 17-2.

Arkansas, 44-19, has won six of seven games in the NCAA Tournament, losing only to Oklahoma in the Stillwater Regional. The Razorbacks are an offensive machine, having slugged 102 home runs, including two among their 21 hits in the battering of Stanford.

“They can swing it, that’s for sure,” said Ole Miss freshman Hunter Elliott, the left-hander who will start Saturday night’s game. You gotta make pitches against them. If you make mistakes, they hit home runs.

“In the series we played against them, I think every they scored came on home runs. That tells you they hit mistakes.”

Elliott, who is 19 years young, hasn’t made many mistakes lately. He allowed three hits and struck out 10 in a 5-0 Super Regional-clinching victory over Southern Miss. He pitched five innings of three-hit, one-run baseball against Miami in the Coral Gables Regional. Before hostile crowds and under intense pressure, he has been dominant in NCAA competition.

“It’s unbelievable what Hunter has done,” second baseman Peyton Chatagnier said. “It’s crazy really. He has so much confidence. It’s like he knows he’s going to get the job done.”

Catcher Hayden Dunhurst has watched Elliott’s freshman progression from a distance of just over 60 feet away.

“He’s gotten a lot better over the course of the season, and you can see it in his body language,” Dunhurst said. “He’s acting like a veteran not a freshman.”

Dunhurst said he noticed the unmistakeable transformation happen in the second game of the three-game series at Arkansas. Ole Miss lost the game 6-3 but it was no fault of Elliott, who pitched well. Elliott allowed three runs on just four hits over six innings. He struck out eight and walked only one. All three Razorbacks runs against Elliott came on two home runs.

Said Dunhurst, “He got in a jam, but he worked his way out of it. You could see it happen. He kept his composure, held his head high and his shoulders back. He’s been that way since.”

Asked about how he felt about starting a true freshman in such a huge game as Monday night’s showdown with Arkansas, Bianco responded, “We have all the confidence in the world in Hunter right now. He’s earned it. It’s hard to do what he has done in the conference.”

Bianco pointed out that Elliott’s statistics – as impressive as they are – are even better when you consider the circumstances. The kid’s record is 4-3. His earned run average is a nifty 2.82. Opponents hit only .202 against him.

“But you gotta realize those statistics have largely come against SEC competition,” Bianco said. “We didn’t move him to the starting rotation until the conference season started. A lot of guys pad their numbers in the early season against lesser competition. Hunter didn’t have that luxury. His numbers are really good, but they are better than they look, actually.

“We knew he was going to be good. We knew he was going to be a weekend arm. That’s why we signed him. But we didn’t know when that was going to happen. We’ve had a lot of stars in this program that weren’t stars when they were freshmen.”

This freshman will make the most important start of his life before more than 25,000 people at the College World Series and before millions of viewers on ESPN. Will the stage be too big?

No, he says. There might be some pre-game butterflies, he admits.

Said Elliott, “But once you throw the first couple pitches, you just lock in and it’s just another game.”

Just another game? Just the most important game in Ole Miss history since long, long before he was born – if ever.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

DeLucia pitches a gem as Ole Miss continues late-season magic


DeLucia pitches a gem as Ole Miss continues late-season magic

OMAHA — For six innings sturdy Dylan DeLucia had pitched the game of his life. He had faced 19 Auburn batters and retired 18, mixing pinpoint control of his 92-93 mph fastball with a devastating slider. led 5-0.

Then, in the seventh, Auburn led off the inning with three straight hits to score a and prompt a mound visit from No. 5, Ole Miss coach . DeLucia had thrown 84 pitches to that point.

Rick Cleveland

Would Bianco take him out? Or leave him in?

Bianco had no intentions — none at all, he said afterward — of lifting DeLucia.

“I just wanted to check him emotionally,” Bianco said. “He’s tough as heck, but, man, he can be emotional. And I just wanted to make sure that we kind of calmed him down a little bit and got him back in the zone. That was it. I knew his stuff was good. … And so, I didn’t see a reason for him to come out with that lead.”

Wise decision — one that helped the Rebels win 5-1.

DeLucia struck out the next batter, then got the next two with a weak fly ball and a pop-out. He fanned the first two Auburn batters in the eighth inning, too.

Said Bianco, “That’s what the good ones do. The good ones make pitches and get off the field. They don’t let it blow up on them. Dylan did that tonight.”

DeLucia — “Loosh” to his teammates and his fans — was only marvelous. He wound up going 7.2 innings, allowing four hits and striking out 10. He pitched ahead in the count throughout and didn’t walk a single batter.

“DeLucia threw his fastball above us and his slider below us,” said Auburn coach Butch Thompson, an Amory native and former Mississippi pitching coach. 

Ole Miss got all the runs the Rebs would need in the first inning, plating two runs on Kemp Alderman’s smashed two-run, line-drive single to left field. Kevin Graham, who had doubled before that, then added a solo home run to left field in the third, and the Rebels scored two more in the sixth.

So this fairy tale-like Ole Miss postseason continues. After finishing the season with a mundane 32-22 record and coming within an eyelash of being left out of the , the Rebels have now won six straight NCAA games and have out-scored their opponents by a whopping 51-12. That’s right: 51 to 12.

The Rebels will face Arkansas, which earlier in the day slammed No. 2 Stanford 17-2, on Monday at 6 p.m. The winner of that one will be just one victory away from playing in the College World Series best-of-three championship series.

On paper, Arkansas is a better team. The Razorbacks’ victory over Stanford was the most lopsided CWS game in 34 years. Arkansas, which has won 44 games, won two of three from Ole Miss at Fayetteville the last weekend of April.

Clearly, this is a different Ole Miss team than it was a month and a half ago. These Rebels are playing baseball at a high, high level in every facet of the sport. They are pitching it well, pounding the strike zone. They are hitting it hard and doing so when it matters most. Take Alderman’s first inning single that came with two outs. Indeed, all three Ole Miss hits in that inning came with two out. That’s what coaches call timely hitting. The Rebels have done it throughout this 6-0 NCAA run. They are catching it and throwing it well, too. A case in point: If you didn’t see it, you should have seen catcher Hayden Dunhurst whip a pick-off throw to first base for the third out of the eighth inning. If you blinked, you missed it.

Another huge part of this Ole Miss run is the bullpen. Josh Mallitz, who replaced DeLucia with two outs in the eighth, struck out the side in the ninth inning. Mallitz has been practically unhittable in the postseason.

Something amazing: The Rebels have pitched and played so well here lately, closer Brandon Johnson has been almost like the Maytag repairman. You don’t bring in your closer when you have a big lead, and the Rebels have enjoyed one in nearly all these postseason games.

They are a confident team.

Asked how the Rebels felt about playing Arkansas again, Graham responded, “Good. At this point it doesn’t matter who you’re playing. Everybody is good. Everybody can beat everybody.”

Count Ole Miss very much in that number.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

A CWS prohibitive favorite? There’s not one, but Ole Miss is hottest team


A CWS prohibitive favorite? There’s not one, but Ole Miss is hottest team

OMAHA — If you’ve read it here once, know you could have read it 50 times or more over the years. Winning baseball championships is all about playing your best when it matters most — getting hot at the right time.

Rick Cleveland

What happened in April matters not in June.

That’s why it says here: has as good a chance as anyone in the College World Series field of winning the whole shebang. Nobody has played better baseball through the NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals than the Rebels. What’s more, the Rebels began their championship-quality play in the late regular season.

In sports terms, they have peaked at the right time.

Ole Miss may have been the last team to receive an at-large bid to the . They may have squeaked in. They may have entered the tournament with one of the most modest records of anyone in the field at 32-22.

None of that matters now. None of what happened in April and early May matters. The Rebels were ranked No. 1 in the early season for a reason. They have the talent. They just had to put it together.

They have. They have won all five their NCAA Tournament games by a combined score of 46-11. That’s no misprint: 46 to 11. They have 13 of their last 16 games overall. 

Let’s look at how other CWS teams on the Ole Miss side of the bracket have done lately. (We’ll worry about the other side when the time comes — if it comes.) Keep in mind, they’ve all done pretty well or they wouldn’t be there.

Auburn, Ole Miss’ Saturday night opponent, has won five of six games in NCAA play, sweeping through the Auburn Regional and then winning two of three at No. 3 overall seed Oregon . Of their last 16 games, the Tigers are 11-5. That’s really good — but not quite as good as Ole Miss.

Staying on the Ole Miss side of the bracket, Stanford, the highest seed left in the tournament, has lost twice in NCAA play and holds a 6-2 record. The Cardinal did end its pre-NCAA schedule on a 16-game winning streak, so there’s that. Also, Stanford is the only national seed remaining on that side of the bracket.

Arkansas, Stanford’s opponent Saturday afternoon, is also hot. The Razorbacks have won five of six in the NCAA Tournament. Bur Arkansas wasn’t playing that well coming in to the NCAA Tournament. The Hogs were two-and-out in the SEC Tournament and lost six of their last 10 regular season games before that. 

If you go by what happened all season long, Ole Miss is the long-shot on its side of the bracket. Stanford, Arkansas and Auburn — probably in that order — were better teams over the entire season. 

But if you go by what has happened lately, Ole Miss is the hottest team, a perfect 5-0 in the tournament and 13-3 over the last 16. That’s balling.

Much depends on the first two games, beginning with the Saturday night game against Auburn. Looking at the numbers, it doesn’t appear the Rebels have the pitching depth of the other teams in the bracket. For that reason, it’s critical that Ole Miss remain in the winners’ bracket. Dylan DeLucia and Hunter Elliott, who threw shutouts against Southern Miss in the Super Regional and have been sensational in May and June, need to continue their recent excellence in Omaha.

Win those first two — against Auburn and against the Arkansas-Stanford winner — the Rebels will be in the proverbial catbird’s seat. Lose either and they’ll have to go far deeper into their pitching staff to reach the best-of-three championship series. They would have to win against teams that have deeper pitching staffs, at least on paper.

Bottom line: Tennessee, the best team in the country, is not here. There is no prohibitive favorite. Any of the eight remaining could win it. And, of the eight, nobody has played better baseball lately than Ole Miss.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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