Tim Elko

Ole Miss, Mike Bianco could soon complete amazing journey

173 views

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 run 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 appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

‘Legendary’ DeLucia puts Ole Miss in title series

80 views

‘Legendary’ DeLucia delivers, puts Ole Miss baseball in championship series

pitcher Dylan DeLucia celebrates the final strikeout of the team’s win over Arkansas during an NCAA College World Series baseball game Thursday, June 23, 2022, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/John Peterson)

OMAHA —  called Dylan DeLucia’s Thursday pitching performance on college baseball’s biggest stage “legendary.” It was that — and more.

With this remarkable Ole Miss baseball season hanging in the balance, Bianco handed the ball to DeLucia, and the sturdy right-hander delivered the game of his life. DeLucia pitched a four-hit shutout for a 2-0 Ole Miss victory that vaults the Rebels into the College World Series best-of-three championship series against Oklahoma.

Rick Cleveland

That championship series begins Saturday night, which gives Ole Miss fans – and college baseball fans in general – 48 hours to discuss one of the most impressive pitching performances ever seen here.

Listen: No Razorback baserunner ever made it to third base. Only two made it to second base. No Razorback leadoff hitter ever reached first base. Not only did DeLucia never walk a batter, only three times did a Razorback batter see a three-ball count. He struck out seven and induced 11 ground ball outs.

DeLucia gave up two first inning singles – and then only two hits for the rest of the game. He needed 19 pitches to finish the first inning – and then only 94 for the last eight innings. Bianco had his two ace relievers Josh Mallitz and Brandon Johnson fresh and ready to go. He never needed either.

But Ole Miss did need every bit of DeLucia’s heroics, because Arkansas ace Connor Noland was nearly as good. Said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, who knows a thing or two about Omaha and the College World Series, “It was one of the best pitchers’ duels I’ve ever seen here.”

The game lasted a mere two hours, six minutes. That’s how good the pitching was. Let’s put it this way, those Ole Miss fans who couldn’t wait to get home from work to watch the last few innings of the most important baseball game in school history were bad out of luck. By the time they got home, it was over, and they could pop the corks.

Remember, DeLucia was pitching on short rest, having lifted the Rebels to a Saturday victory over Auburn, going 7.2 innings and giving up only one run.

Surely, given the short rest, Ole Miss coaches were hoping against hope for five, maybe six, good innings from DeLucia and then to turn it over to the likes of Mallitz and Johnson. Asked how many innings he thought he could go, DeLucia answered, “I just stayed with it. … I just looked and saw all those zeroes going into the eighth, and I was just like it’s my time to finally finish this game.”

He did it in style, retiring the last seven batters he faced. Remember, these weren’t ordinary hitters he was dealing with. Arkansas packs a wicked punch. The Razorbacks were hitting .335 with six home runs and 14 doubles in their four previous World Series games.

Asked about DeLucia, Rebel captain responded, “Hat’s off to him. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better pitching performance in a clutch situation.”

DeLucia said he lacked command of his fastball early in the game and went mostly with sliders. Van Horn noted that DeLucia’s fastball, which is often in the mid-90s, was topping out at 90-91 mph, probably due to the short rest.

“… But he located and he pitched,” Van Horn said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s about pitching, and he did.”

So did Arkansas’ Noland, who matched DeLucia’s zeroes through the first three innings, facing only nine batters, the minimum.

Ole Miss got the only run it would need in the fourth. Ever-dependable Justin Bench singled to right field and then moved to second on Jacob Gonzalez’s grounder to second base. Elko struck out for the second out, which meant that the Rebels needed a timely, two-out hit from Kevin Graham, who promptly laced a double down the right field line scoring Bench easily.

Said Noland, when asked about the pitch Graham hit, “It was a curve ball right down the middle. He’s a hitter, he turned on it.”

Van Horn went a little further later in the press conference, saying, “Thank God, I don’t ever have to see Kevin Graham hit against us again. Seems like that guy is always up. I have nightmares about him, I’ll be honest with you.”

The Rebels added an insurance run in the seventh when Elko singled, followed by Graham – that man again! – beating the Arkansas shift with a well-placed ground ball through the spot where a shortstop normally plays. Elko moved to second on Graham’s hit and then scored on a Calvin Harris’ single to right.

Other than the first inning, DeLucia endured only one tense moment. With two outs in the seventh inning, Arkansas put runners on first and second on an infield hit, followed by an infield error. That brought up Brady Slavens, who had hit a massive home run over the centerfield wall in Arkansas’ Wednesday night victory.

Slavens was almost a hero again, bouncing a ground ball between Elko and second baseman Peyton Chatagnier. Chatagnier ranged far to his left, reached and stabbed the ball and threw a strike to Elko to nip Slavens at first. It was a Major League play.

Arkansas made a few of those type plays, too, which made for such a classic game. Said Van Horn, “I like offense. I like defense. I like good pitching. I just like good baseball, and that was a good baseball game.”

Next up for the Rebels: Red-hot Oklahoma, which went through its side of the bracket without a defeat. The Sooners (45-22) have a decided advantage in that they will have a rested ace – and a rested pitching staff. 

Bianco said he has only seen brief patches of Oklahoma this season and here. “We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then,” he said.

Van Horn didn’t mind talking about the championship series. In fact, he brought it up.

“It’s going to be a good series for them with Oklahoma,” the Arkansas coach said. “Oklahoma is going to be rested and have all their arms loaded and ready to go. But the way Ole Miss has been playing down the stretch, it might not matter.”

The victory was Ole Miss’s 40th of the season against 23 defeats – amazing when you consider they were once 24-19 and going seemingly nowhere. Now they are in Omaha, college baseball’s Valhalla, on the precipice of a national championship.

Who would have believed it?

“We did,” Elko answered a similar question on Wednesday. “If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re beaten before you ever play the game.”

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

Podcast: Omaha magic – Mississippi Today

104 views

Podcast: Omaha magic

Coral Gables, Hattiesburg, Omaha. The site seems to make no difference to the red-hot Rebels, 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 Ole Miss 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 appeared 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

87 views

www.wxxv25.com – 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…

Source link

The Legend of Tim Elko grows

184 views

The Legend of Tim Elko grows: ‘The dude is a freak with a bat in his hands’

OMAHA – Today’s column, a synopsis: Another game, another victory, and another chapter in the Legend of .

Just when you think the Elko story can’t get any better and any more Bunyan-esque, something happens like happened in the second inning of Ole Miss’s 13-5 conquest of Arkansas in the College World Series Monday night.

Rick Cleveland

To set the stage: Ole Miss, playing perhaps its most important baseball game in school history, led 2-1 with two outs in the second. The unseasonably hot and relentless Nebraska wind was howling in from centerfield. With Justin Bench on second base, Elko came to bat. The count went to two balls, two strikes, and Arkansas pitcher Evan Taylor was just one strike away from getting out of the inning.

Arkansas catcher Michael Turner signaled for the slider, and held his mitt low and inside. Taylor delivered a slider that never slid – high and outside – several inches off the plate.

Most batters would have taken the pitch for ball three. Instead, Elko took a mighty swing, reaching all the way across the plate and almost into the opposite batter’s box. Against that wind, Elko somehow launched a towering home run that landed far beyond the Arkansas bullpen and high up into the left field stands, 416 feet away from home plate. For what it’s worth, we are told the ball left Elko’s bat at 109 mph. It traveled 416 feet in a hurry – the longest home run of this College World Series.

Tuesday morning, prior to an off-day practice session, Elko smiled when asked about the clout.

“I didn’t really realize how far outside it was until I saw it on the video last night,” Elko said. “At first, I think partly because of the location of the pitch, I didn’t realize I got it that good. But then I saw it flying and knew I got it good enough.”

And then some…

Said , “I haven’t seen many balls hit that far in this stadium, especially with that wind. It wasn’t a line drive that got under the wind. It was high, into the teeth of it. It just shows how strong and powerful Tim is.”

Elko’s shot had freshman pitcher Hunter Elliott, chief beneficiary, gushing a day later.

“It was awesome, that’s man strength right there,” Elliott said. “Crazy strength, crazy talent, crazy everything. The dude is a freak with a bat in his hand.”

The freakish dude with Superman shoulders and Popeye forearms has now hit 23 home runs this season and 45 in his storied career. Elko says he finds himself almost needing to pinch himself these days to realize the last three weeks aren’t a dream.

“I don’t know if it’s even sunk in yet and maybe that’s good, because we remain relaxed just going out there and playing ball,” Elko said. “We’ve had some really good teams here at Ole Miss. We’ve had some hot streaks before, but this is some of the best baseball I’ve ever seen. This is about as good as it gets.”

It’s not just Elko, mind you, although he is the captain and the unquestioned team leader. During this postseason run, the Rebels have hit well up and down the lineup. Monday night, Garrett Wood, the eight-hole hitter, was on base four of five times, while nine-hole hitter Calvin Harris slammed two doubles and a home run, scored twice and knocked in four runs.

In NCAA competition, against top-shelf teams, Ole Miss is 7-0 and has outscored the opposition 64-18, which looks like a misprint but isn’t.

Elko takes none of it for granted.

“There’s no place better to end your college career than Omaha,” Elko said. “There would be no better way to end it than by winning the national championship.”

Bianco says that one of the “neatest” aspects of the Legend of Elko is that Elko didn’t have to come back for this season. He could have taken them money and gone pro. He had already come back from a torn ACL – actually played with the ACL still torn – to lift the 2021 Rebels to a regional championship and to within one game of the College World Series.

Said Bianco, “He came back for one reason, which was to play in the College World Series, and here he is doing this.”

What more could Elko possibly do?

Bianco smiled, looked down and shook his head. “I don’t know,” Bianco. “He can invite us to his statue ceremony, I guess.”

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

Ole Miss smokes hottest team in College World Series, continues its postseason dominance

201 views

Ole Miss smokes hottest team in College World Series, continues its postseason dominance

OMAHA — Way back when, after the New York Yankees won several consecutive World Series, the cry around the Major Leagues was: “Break up the Yankees!”

If this remarkable domination of late continues, the cry in college baseball will soon be: “Break up the Rebels.”

This is getting absurd.

Rick Cleveland

Ole Miss pounded Southeastern Conference rival Arkansas 13-5 on a hot, windy Monday night to remain undefeated in the College World Series – and remain the only undefeated team in the NCAA Baseball Tournament.

But it’s not just the winning, it’s the dominance. Through seven NCAA games, the Rebels have now out-scored their opponents 64-18. Through two CWS games, the Rebels have outscored opposition 18-6. In their last five games the Rebs have scored 56 runs, while the opposition scored only 13. These aren’t mid-week opponents they are playing, these are some of the best college baseball teams in the country.

There’s hot and then there’s scalding. The Rebels are scalding hot.

They are also comfortably in the driver’s seat on one side of the world series bracket. Ole Miss will enjoy an off day Tuesday, while Arkansas and Auburn play one another at 6 p.m. to try to keep their championship hopes alive. The winner will then have to beat Ole Miss twice in order to advance to the best-of-three championship series.

Another way to put it: Ole Miss, the team that was once 7-14 in the SEC and seemingly headed nowhere, now sits three victories away from a national championship. The Rebels do not play again until Wednesday at 6 p.m.

said all he really needed to say in the first three words of his post-game press conference: “We were terrific…”

The Rebels were – and have been for three straight weeks.

On the other side of the bracket, Oklahoma remains undefeated, while Notre Dame and Texas A&M will play Tuesday at 1 p.m. to see who gets to try and beat the Sooners twice.

Ole Miss’ Monday night heroes should be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to this postseason Rebel resurrection:

  • Tupelo freshman Hunter Elliott, 19, pitching with the poise of a man a decade older and more experienced, weathered some early fielding problems from his teammates and for the most part shut down the high-powered Razorbacks. Elliot gave the Rebels 6.1 innings, allowing just one earned run and leaving with a 10-3 lead.
  • , a still-playing Ole Miss legend, hammered the longest home run of this College World Series, a two-run, second inning blast into the wind measured at 416 feet. At this point, it is difficult to fathom why anyone throws Elko a pitch he can reach. Elko hit a slider that didn’t slide. He reached across the plate and yanked the ball deep into the left field stands.
  • Calvin Harris, batting ninth in the order, slammed two doubles and a two-run home run. The Rebels benefitted from four hits, five runs and four runs batted in from their 8- and 9-hole hitters. How good is that?
  • Sweet-swinging Kevin Graham provided two more timely hits and two more runs batted in – and reached base four times.
  • Garrett Wood, making only his fourth start of the season, continued his postseason excellence, playing error-less ball at third base, and reaching base three times. 
  • Justin Bench did what lead-off hitters are supposed to do, hitting three singles and a double and scoring four times, while driving home two more. His third inning line drive might have killed Arkansas pitcher Cole Ramage if he hadn’t gotten his glove up just in time.

There were others, but you get the idea. When a team is as hot as these Rebels are and winning by these margins, everyone contributes. 

How far can they go?

Look how far they have come.

Nothing seems impossible now.

“Getting hot is real,” said Bianco, who also said he has cut back on team meetings during this hot streak and an cut back on the length of the meetings the Rebels do have.

“When they’re playing like this the best thing you can do is to just let ’em go,” Bianco said. “Just get out of the way and let ’em play.”

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

Tim Elko, our fathers, and the ‘game of failure’

89 views

Tim Elko, our fathers, and the ‘game of failure’

I’ve come to understand a simple truth: The very worst things could be happening in the world around you, but everything feels so much better while watching a baseball game with your dad.

I owe my obsession with the game to Dad. He coached my tee ball team, we played catch in the front yard until it got too dark to see, and he taught me swing mechanics. He made so many sacrifices to watch me play in Little League, and he encouraged me after I realized in middle school that my dream of becoming a big league player was just so laughably, unbelievably unattainable.

Adam Ganucheau

He let me stay up way past my bedtime to watch our Boston Red Sox finish close games. Watching us play the Yankees, he taught me the skill of respectful trash talk (I later learned the art of vulgar trash talk in the right field student section). I’ll forever cherish some of the lessons I learned when Dad took me to my first Major League game at the old Turner Field in Atlanta, and our first trip to Fenway Park was borderline spiritual.

But perhaps the most important thing dad has taught me about baseball is that it’s a game of failure. The sport’s best hitters routinely fail to reach base about 70% of the time. Even the most dominant pitchers can struggle to find the strike zone for no good reason, and the most intelligent players are always liable to make fielding or baserunning errors. Some of the greatest baseball teams in history lost close to half of their season’s games.

Baseball has never been about avoiding that inevitable failure, Dad has always said; it’s about how you respond when it happens.

So that’s why, sitting with my dad at home on Saturday night watching our beloved decisively win their first game at the College World Series, I found myself completely lost in the story of .

Elko, the captain of the team that has nearly reached the pinnacle of the sport, has become a true college baseball legend for responding remarkably to failure. Ahead of this Father’s Day, I wondered if Elko’s dad would agree.

“To say there have been ups and downs is an understatement,” John Elko told me, laughing. Then, before I even mentioned my dad’s most important baseball lesson, John Elko says to me: “You know, baseball is a game of failure.”

My dad and Tim Elko’s dad are on to something.

A young Tim Elko poses for a photo. (Courtesy John Elko)

Tim’s freshman year, he quickly realized after arriving on campus that SEC baseball teams are loaded with talent and he’d have to wait his turn. His sophomore year, he began to emerge but a nagging injury held back his production. His junior year in 2020, the hottest hit streak of his life — and his team’s incredible 16-game win streak — was abruptly ended when the pandemic shut the world down.

He entered his senior year in 2021 thinking it would be his last at Ole Miss. He led the team to an impressive 21-6 start with a high national ranking, and Elko was absolutely smoking the ball. Early that season, he was racking up the accolades: SEC Player of the Week, Bragan Slugger of the Week, Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week.

Then, in a freak replayed hundreds of times by Ole Miss fans, Elko rolled over first base awkwardly in a meaningless mid-week blowout and tore his ACL. The lifeblood of the team, everyone rightfully assumed, was out for the season.

“My immediate thought was that his career is probably over,” John Elko said of the shocking injury. “It was just a devastating feeling, to be honest with you.”

But five days later, Tim video-called his parents. He showed them his new knee brace, and he told them what the team doctors had just told him.

“The minute they told him he could possibly play through the injury, he said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do this,’” John Elko recalled.

Just 33 days after the injury, Elko came into the game as a pinch hitter at Texas A&M and blasted a three-run home run. He led Ole Miss to game three of the Super Regionals last year and hit seven home runs and 18 RBI — all on a torn ACL. That performance led to unironic calls that the university build an Elko statue at Swayze Field.

That’s an impressive way to respond to an unexpected moment of failure.

“When he decided to play on the bad knee, we both felt and said it at the same time that God was gonna move here, that he was gonna make something happen,” John Elko said. “And the rest is history. It shouldn’t have been able to happen the way that it did, but it did. You can explain it any way you like, but we prefer ‘miracle.’” 

After that 2021 season ended, Tim had a decision to make: Should he take his chances and enter the MLB draft with a bum knee, or should he come back to Ole Miss for one more “COVID season” to rehab his leg and try to prove himself to scouts?

“He thought and prayed about it for a few days, but made the decision to come back to Ole Miss,” John Elko recalled. “He said, ‘We’re gonna go to Omaha and win a national championship.’ That’s why he came back.” 

Well in Omaha one year later, Tim Elko has his squad knocking at the door of the national championship series. It’s an incredible accomplishment considering how badly the team was playing in March and April. The turnaround, too, can be largely credited to Elko and the team’s other leaders. Elko’s play this season has been incredible and has surely impressed pro scouts: 22 home runs, 71 RBI, 58 runs scored and 41 walks.

John Elko, left, and Tim Elko pose for a photo. (Courtesy John Elko)

During the game on Saturday night, an ESPN reporter interviewed John Elko at Charles Schwab Field. All the fathers and sons sitting in that stadium and watching on national TV saw Tim have just a decent game: he had one hit, one walk and scored the first run of the game. Of course, John Elko talked about how proud he was of his son and the team.

It’s a strange thing to consider, but all those fathers and sons who watched the game Saturday night aren’t too unlike the Elkos. All those fathers want is for their sons to succeed and to respond well after moments of failure, and all those sons want is to make their fathers proud.

Tim Elko sure is successful, and he’s clearly done a great job responding to failure. And John Elko sure is proud. That’s what it’s all about for the Elkos and for all of us.

I’ll be watching the remainder of Ole Miss’ run here in Omaha, and my dad will be back at home. We’ll talk on the phone after the games and discuss the key plays and big moments. But for the remainder of the College World Series, we’ll both be watching out for that same old maxim: How do players and teams respond to the inevitable failure?

My dad and I like the chances of the team whose leader has proven he knows how to respond to failure well. And you have to believe John Elko feels the same way.

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

Resurgence of Omaha-bound Rebels is largely about Mike Bianco

215 views

‘It’s about the players,’ Bianco says, but the resurgence of Omaha-bound Rebels is largely about him

HATTIESBURG — and a couple of his star players were holding court Sunday in the postgame press conference after finished its 10-0, 5-0 blitzkrieg of Southern Miss in the Hattiesburg Super Regional.

Most questions were directed to Bianco, the 22-year Rebel head coach, and most questions were about what the team’s resurgence has meant to him in a season when he faced unprecedented criticism from his own fans.

Rick Cleveland

At one point, Bianco clearly wanted the line of questioning to go another direction.

“It’s not about me, I mean that,” Bianco said. “I didn’t throw, catch or hit a ball out there. It’s about these guys …”

He’s right. This is college baseball. It should be about the players. It should be all about the spectacular Sunday pitching performance of 19-year-old Tupelo left-hander Hunter Elliott, who pitched like a 29-year-old Major League veteran. It should be about , the still-playing Ole Miss baseball legend, who came back for his senior year because he wanted to go to Omaha — and now he will. It should be about Justin Bench, another senior and the Rebels’ best defender at any number of positions who pounded out three hits against superb Southern Miss pitching.

But today, especially today, the story is Bianco, the winningest coach in Ole Miss history — and a class act — who was roundly criticized on social media, fan websites and from the grandstands. This wasn’t a vocal minority. This was the majority of a fan base.

Bianco says he doesn’t read what he calls “the noise.”

“I’ve learned a long time ago I can’t live in that world,” Bianco said. “I know it’s out there but I try to stay away from it, and I think I do a good job of it.”

Most everybody else reads it and hears it. And all that negativism filtered all the way down to Hattiesburg where Scott Berry, the Southern Miss coach, heard it and was dumbfounded by it.

“Whenever (Bianco) decides it’s time to go, they ought to build a statue at that stadium for all he has achieved,” Berry said. “He’s one of the best around, and he always does it with class.”

This was a bitter defeat for Berry, mind you. His team won 47 games, set attendance records, hosted a regional and then a super regional. But still, he was genuinely happy for Bianco.

“Obviously, we wanted to be the ones going to Omaha,” said Berry, another coach who oozes class. “But if it couldn’t be us, I’m glad it is them. That’s a classy program. I’ll be pulling for them to win the whole thing.”

Bianco and his staff do deserve much of the credit for keeping the Ole Miss ship afloat when a team ranked No. 1 in the nation early in the season fell to 7-14 in the SEC at one point. The question wasn’t whether Ole Miss would make the . That seemed utterly impossible. The question was whether they could even win enough games to make the SEC Tournament field and whether they would even finish with a winning record.

Bianco deflected any praise for the turn-around to his senior leaders, to his staff, to the starting pitching prowess of the one-two punch of Dylan Delucia and Elliott and to his coaching staff. He even mentioned a talk former Rebel and Major Leaguer Chris Coughlan gave to his team prior to the Missouri series in May.

Coughlan’s message, said Bianco: “He challenged the guys not to listen to the noise. He said don’t you dare let what people are saying on social media take your mind off your goals. Your job is to win the national championship.”

That remains a distinct possibility, truly incredible when you think back to May 1 when the Rebels had dropped to 24-19 overall and 7-14 in the league.

Here’s the deal: College baseball, as has been written countless times, is all about getting hot at the right time. That time is now, and Ole Miss is a red-hot team. The Rebels have won five straight games against top-shelf opposition. They beat two future professional pitchers here, two guys who have been invited to try out for the U.S. National collegiate team Bianco will coach later this summer.

The Rebels are hitting well, pitching well, fielding well. They appear to have genuinely good team chemistry. Now that Tennessee has been vanquished, the College World Series is wide open.

Stranger things have happened. Heck, stranger things already have. Maybe they’ll start on that Bianco statue later this summer.

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

Ole Miss’ remarkable resurgence reaches to within one win of Omaha

162 views

Ole Miss Rebels’ remarkable resurgence reaches to within one win of Omaha

HATTIESBURG — The Rebels won only seven of their first 21 SEC games. They were one and done in the SEC Tournament. They dropped from No. 1 in the nation early in the season to far out of the various college baseball polls.

Many Ole Miss fans were openly calling for Coach ’s dismissal, saying the game had passed him by. Most bracket experts thought the Rebels had little hope, if any, of receiving an at large bid to the .

Rick Cleveland

And now, Bianco’s Rebels stand one victory away from the College World Series at Omaha, and that victory could come Sunday.

The Bible had Lazarus. College baseball has Ole Miss.

The Rebels dispatched the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, the No. 11 seed in the tournament and winners of 47 games, 10-0 on Saturday to win the first game of the Hattiesburg Super Regional. The two teams square off again today in the oven Pete Taylor Park becomes this time of the year. Simply put, if Ole Miss wins, Ole Miss goes to Omaha. If Southern Miss wins, they’ll play again Monday at a time to be determined.

The announced attendance was 5,474, of which more than 4,500 were Southern Miss fans. Those gold-clad fans, loud to begin with, were drowned out in the end by the Ole Miss cheering section down the first baseline. The Hotty Toddies had plenty to cheer.

Ole Miss had only one anxious moment. The Rebels led 3-0 when Southern Miss loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. Reece Ewing yanked a Dylan DeLucia pitch down the right field line that cleared the fence right at the foul pole. Foul or fair? Grand slam or loud foul?

Ewing clearly thought it was fair. DeLucia? “Honestly, I didn’t know if it was foul or fair,” DeLucia said. “Sure am glad it was foul.”

It was so close plate umpire Linus Baker called for a video review. After a long delay, the call on the field was upheld. DeLucia, who was only splendid for the Rebels, fanned Ewing with a wicked slider on the next pitch — by far the biggest pitch of the game.

And then Ole Miss scored seven runs in the sixth, and what what looked for a moment like it might be a 4-3 game with Southern Miss leading became a 10-0 Rebel runaway.

Best evidence that the umpires got it right? This: There wasn’t a full-scale riot in the Right Field Roost where hundreds of the most rabid of Southern Miss fans sit, cheer, eat barbecue and have been known to consume more than a few adult beverages.

Your dutiful reporter went right to the source for conclusive evidence. Said a gold-clad fan, between gulps of a Miller Lite, “It was a foul ball — dammit.”

Ole Miss proceeded to do what LSU couldn’t do last weekend. The Rebels beat Southern Miss right-hander Hurston Waldrep, who Bianco said “is going to be a Big Leaguer. He’s terrific.”

Waldrep struck out 12 Rebels in just five innings. But Ole Miss was patient enough at the plate to draw four walks and opportunistic enough to touch Waldrep up for six hits. The Ole Miss legend, also known as , produced two of the hits and knocked in three of the runs.

Meanwhile, DeLucia did what he has been doing since mid-April, which is string zeroes across the scoreboard. Said Bianco of DeLucia, “He not only gives a good chance to win, he gives us a great chance to win. He has pretty much saved our season.”

Said Southern Miss coach Scott Berry, “We had our chances, but that young man really stepped up for them. He pitched really well.”

DeLucia went 5.2 innings, throwing 108 pitches and allowing only four hits. Jack Dougherty then pitched 3.1 innings of hitless relief. This was a Super Regional billed by many as Ole Miss’ superb hitting against Southern Miss’ exceptional pitching. DeLucia and Dougherty, at least for one game, have rewritten that script. Ole Miss can pitch it, too.

We’ve come to expect such heroics from the likes of Elko and DeLucia. But to win at this time of the year in college baseball, a team needs help from where you don’t necessarily expect it. Enter little-used third baseman Garrett Wood, who hit a run-scoring double, scored a run himself and walked three times. Not bad for a guy known as a defensive replacement.

Of Wood, Bianco said, “It’s really cool. … Good things happen to good people and that is certainly the case here. He’s one of the most popular guys on our team. Everybody loves him. He’s always upbeat, always a smile on his face.”

Anybody who believes this Super Regional is a done deal now hasn’t been paying attention. Southern Miss was in a worse situation last weekend in the Hattiesburg Regional when, after a Saturday night loss to LSU, the Golden Eagles had to come back and win three games in two days and beat LSU twice in the process.

“We’ve had our backs against the wall before,” Berry said. ”We’re not ready to be done with this season. We have the pitching to still win this thing. We’ve just got to start hitting.”

Somebody asked Bianco if his Rebels might be looking ahead to Omaha. Bianco smiled as if break into laughter.

“Really,” he answered. “I don’t think they are looking ahead to anything. They know what they are playing for. You don’t have to remind them.”

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

Ole Miss red hot before Hattiesburg Super Regional

227 views

www.wxxv25.com – Jeff Haeger – 2022-06-07 22:01:55

Southern Miss and are playing one another in the Hattiesburg Super Regional for the right to go to the College World Series.

The Rebels could pose a serious threat to USM, coming off their most explosive game in program history, scoring 22 runs to eliminate Arizona on Monday.

The third-year captain led the way for a team that was one of the last four in, but now one of the last 16…

Source link

Go to Top