Ole Miss has been here before. To say the least.
The No. 3 seed Rebels (36-22) have two chances to win one game to reach the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, after stifling Southern Miss, 10-0, Saturday in the opener of a best-of-three NCAA Super Regional before 5,474 at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
No. 1 seed and host USM (47-18) can stay alive with a victory Sunday at 4 p.m. Eastern on ESPNU. A third game would be on Monday at a time to be announced.
Ole Miss has won the first game of a Super Regional three times under coach Mike Bianco (2005, ’06, and ’09) and not advanced. The Rebels have lost six of seven Super Regionals overall since 2005 with the one advancement in 2014 when they beat Louisiana in Lafayette twice after a loss in the opener.
Last year, Ole Miss lost a Super Regional at Arizona after winning the second game and it lost in 2019 at Arkansas after winning the second game.
“Focus isn’t an issue,” said Ole Miss senior left fielder Kevin Graham, who was on the previous two Super Regional teams. “What else is there to focus on? What are you here for other than being here? Just have to play.”
Freshman left-hander Hunter Elliott (3-3, 3.17 ERA) will start for Ole Miss Sunday against sophomore right-hander Tanner Hall (9-2, 2.61 ERA).
In other NCAA Super Regional action involving SEC teams on Saturday, Texas A&M advanced to Omaha and the College World Series with a 4-3 win over Louisville in College Station, Texas. The Aggies beat Louisville, 5-4, on Friday.
Host Tennessee defeated Notre Dame 12-4 on Saturday after an 8-6 loss on Friday. The two meet at 1 p.m. Sunday on ESPN with Omaha on the line.
Arkansas won 4-1 at North Carolina Saturday and play in game two at 1 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2.
Auburn won 7-5 at Oregon State Saturday and play in game two at 10 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2.
Graham hit a two-run double in a seven-run sixth inning for Ole Miss for a 9-0 lead. Senior Tim Elko, who was also on the last two Super Regional losing teams, stroked a two-run double in the sixth for a 7-0 lead.
Elko gave the Rebels a 1-0 lead in the second inning with an RBI single off USM ace starter Hurston Waldrep, who walked the first two of the inning. Sophomore Kemp Alderman made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly. An RBI double in the fourth by senior Garrett Wood put Ole Miss up 3-0 in the fourth.
Waldrep struck out 12 to set a USM record for NCAA play, but walked four and allowed six hits in taking the loss to fall to 6-2. Ole Miss starter Dylan DeLucia, a junior college transfer, allowed just four hits in five and two-thirds innings with two walks and nine strikeouts for the win to go to 6-2.
DeLucia’s biggest strikeout was of No. 3 hitter Reece Ewing on a wicked slider in the bottom of the fifth with two outs and the bases loaded to keep Ole Miss up 3-0. Ewing had just apparently given USM a 4-3 lead with a grand slam to right field, but the hit was reviewed and ruled a foul ball.
“Really, I didn’t know if the ball was fair or foul, so when they came back and said it was foul, I was excited,” DeLucia said.
“We had opportunities to get momentum and punch back when they were up 3-0 and get on the board,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “When you miss out on opportunities to get momentum, you actually just give more momentum to them.”
Which is exactly what happened. Ole Miss immediately scored seven for the 10-0 lead in its next at-bat after DeLucia’s strikeout of Ewing.
“There was no bigger pitch today than that,” Bianco said. “We were able to have a good inning after that, but what that inning was all about was getting out of it with the bases loaded.”
The big inning also enabled Bianco to not use closer Brandon Johnson (11 saves) or the rest of his dominant bullpen other than Jack Dougherty, who gave up no runs, hits, or walks in three and one-third innings for his second save of the season.
“It’s big to get through the first game using only two guys,” Bianco said, but he knows better than to be too happy yet. “We’ll see over the next two days.”
Just two weeks ago, Bianco and the Rebels received the 33rd and last at-large bid to the 64-team NCAA Tournament. They are now one win away from Bianco’s second trip to Omaha as Ole Miss’ head coach.
“I’m just proud of our guys,” Bianco said. “I’m just proud of the way we played. Just a good day, and I’m proud of our guys.”
The Rebels have been to the College World Series five times in all with four before Bianco’s arrival in 2001. Those were in 1956, ’64, ’69 and ’72. Former Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning played shortstop for Ole Miss’ 1969 World Series team. Southern Mississippi has reached Omaha once in 2009.