HATTIESBURG, Mississippi – In the same stadium that his mentor Skip Bertman began his college baseball head coaching career for LSU in 1984, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco won his way to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, after facing a possible dismissal just two weeks ago.
And he left the field spewing Skip-isms after a 5-0 win over USM to take the best-of-three NCAA Super Regional two games to none in front of 5,469 at Pete Taylor Park after a 10-0 win on Saturday.
It was Bianco’s second Super Regional title after losing six of those since 2005, including three at Ole Miss’ home park in which he won the first game, which was part of his growing brand fatigue amid a segment of Rebel fans along with his very public interview last year for the LSU job.
“We just played well,” Bianco said and then launched into a favorite story line of Bertman, whom he played for in 1988 and ’89 with a trip to Omaha and coached under from 1993-97 with four more Omaha trips and three national titles.
“You know everybody tries to make it into like a football scheme or something like that,” Bianco said. “Most of it’s just playing well. Our guys just played super well.”
And the Rebels pitched extremely well. Bianco learned pitching as Bertman’s catcher and as an assistant.
Ole Miss pitching became the first staff to shut out Southern Mississippi in back-to-back games this season, and the Rebels’ bullpen completed the entire NCAA postseason so far without allowing an earned run. USM scored 16 runs on 23 hits off LSU in back-to-back 8-4 and 8-7 wins last week to reach its first-ever home Super Regional.
Ole Miss will play on Saturday in the College World Series against the winner of the Auburn-Oregon State Super Regional. Auburn plays at Oregon State with Omaha on the line at 7:30 p.m. eastern Monday on ESPN2.
The Rebels (47-19) are off to Omaha for the first time since 2014 after barely reaching the NCAA Tournament following a one-and-done appearance in the SEC Tournament two weeks ago. Ole Miss got in as the 33rd and last at-large invite of the 64-team field as a No. 3 seed in the Coral Gables, Florida, Regional. And the Rebels have not lost since, beating No. 2 seed Arizona 7-4, No. 1 seed Miami 2-1 and Arizona 22-6 to reach Hattiesburg.
Ole Miss is only the fourth No. 3 seed to reach Omaha without a loss in the postseason since the Super Regional format began in 1999.
“This isn’t easy,” Bianco said. “Tennessee lost, I heard. They were the No. 1 team in the country. Some of it has to do with good fortune, and unfortunately, we hadn’t had a lot of that in Super Regionals.”
Bertman, who won five national championships at LSU between 1991-2000 before retiring after the 2001 season, often spoke of baseball fortune.
Ole Miss lost Super Regionals in 2005 and 2006 in Oxford, 2007 at Arizona State, 2009 in Oxford, 2019 at Arkansas and last year at Arizona, where Bianco may have also lost the LSU job to Arizona coach Jay Johnson.
Bianco was about to lose the Ole Miss job after his worst start in SEC play this season at 7-14 since he came to the Rebels before the 2001 season. Ole Miss finished strong in the league at 14-16, but lost that SEC Tournament opener, 3-1, to Vanderbilt for its third loss in four games and subsequently sweated out the NCAA bid with a No. 40 in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).
“We had heard that he might be in trouble, but I didn’t believe it,” said Ole Miss reliever Josh Mallitz, who didn’t allow a hit over the last inning and two thirds for the save. “And we still had faith that we were going to get a bid. Coach B just said keep practicing like we were going to make it.”
Mallitz had the same approach when he entered the eighth inning with runners on first and second with one out and Ole Miss up 4-0. He struck out Blake Johnson before a walk that loaded the bases. Then he got Carson Paetow to pop out to shortstop to end the threat. Mallitz retired the Golden Eagles (47-19) in order in the ninth.
Freshman left-hander Hunter Elliott (4-3) limited USM to three hits and zero walks over seven and one-third innings with 10 strikeouts for the win.
“He had the mound presence of a senior. He was in total control. I was really impressed,” USM coach Scott Berry said.
“Best game of the year,” Bianco said of Elliott.
Like Bertman, Bianco makes his pitchers better as the season goes on.
“Hunter’s had a lot of really good games, but that was his best,” Bianco said. “And we really needed it.”
Ole Miss took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth off USM starter Tanner Hall with some help. Calvin Harris singled and Justin Bench doubled around a fly out to shortstop. USM first baseman Chris Sargent lost Jacob Gonzales’ one-hop, high bouncer in the sun for an RBI single and 1-0 lead. A passed ball made it 2-0, and Kevin Graham’s RBI single put the Rebels up 3-0.
Hayden Dunhurst singled in the Ole Miss sixth and scored on Bench’s RBI single for a 4-0 lead. Bench finished 3-for-5 at the plate. T.J. McCants’ solo home run in the eighth put Ole Miss up comfortably, considering its pitching, at 5-0.
“I don’t think too many people thought we’d make it this far,” Ole Miss junior second baseman Peyton Chatagnier said after the dog pile in the middle of the diamond. “But we did. A lot of us were here when we lost the last game of the Super Regional twice. We know what that feels like.”
This was much better, even though Mallitz got caught under the victory pile amid chants of “We’re going! We’re going!”
“My right arm was trapped,” he said. “There was a big body on me. I finally got free and caught my breath. But I feel great. This hasn’t settled in yet. We’re going to Omaha!”