There has been a somewhat popular, makeshift acronym chasing the Ole Miss baseball program for the last 17 years or so concerning its lack of success at reaching the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
O-M-A-H-A – Ole Miss At Home Again.
That quieted somewhat in 2014 when the Rebels reached the CWS for the first time since 1972 after Coach Mike Bianco’s team made the Super Regional round only to lose in 2005, ’06, ’07 and ’09. But it fired up again when the Rebels were bridesmaids in 2019 and ’21 after two more best-of-three Super Regional losses. Close, but no Hotty Toddy cheer.
Not this year. You bet your Hotty Toddy.
After a 13-5 win over Arkansas Monday night at Charles Schwab Field, Ole Miss is 2-0 in Omaha for the first time since 1956. The best Ole Miss has ever done in CWS trips, which included 1964 and ’69, was 2-2 in ’56 after beating New Hampshire and Bradley to start before losing to Minnesota and Arizona.
If Ole Miss (39-22) wins its next game on Wednesday (7 p.m. eastern, ESPN) against the Arkansas-Auburn winner, it will advance to the best-of-three championship series that starts Saturday. If Ole Miss loses to the Arkansas-Auburn winner, it will have another chance to advance on Thursday. The Rebels have never been this close to a national championship in baseball.
So, how about O-L-E-M-A-H-A as one sign said at the game.
“Obviously, we’re excited,” Bianco said. “Either losing the first one or the second one, man, it’s tough. It’s tough to get through because you’ve got to play four days in a row, and you’ve got to win the next three just to get to the championship series.”
Auburn eliminated Stanford, 6-2, on Monday afternoon in the first game of the day Monday.
The College World Series, also known as the SEC West Tournament West, continues Tuesday with Texas A&M playing Notre Dame in an elimination game at 2 p.m. eastern on ESPN. Ole Miss, Arkansas, Auburn and A&M are all in the SEC West. Auburn plays Arkansas at 7 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN in another elimination game.
The Rebels beat Auburn, 5-1, on Saturday to open their CWS and are the only undefeated team throughout the entire NCAA Tournament at 7-0 with three wins at the NCAA Regional in Coral Gables, Florida, and two wins at the Super Regional at Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
Ole Miss’ pitching is very rested as Bianco has not even needed to use his senior right-hander closer Brandon Johnson (1-3, 4.43 ERA, 11 saves, 68 strikeouts in 40 innings) since the NCAA Regional in Coral Gables, Florida, two weeks ago.
“That’s amazing,” Bianco said. “We haven’t been in a game closer than four runs.”
With the days off on Sunday and Tuesday, Bianco could go back to his ace – junior right-hander Dylan DeLucia (7-2, 4.07 ERA, 98 strikeouts, 86.1 innings), who beat Auburn on Saturday. Ole Miss’ No. 3 starter is junior right-hander Derek Diamond (4-4, 6.89 ERA, 57 strikeouts, 65.1 innings).
Ole Miss has been pitching with cushions because it has been manhandling opponents of late – 22-6 over Arizona in the Regional title game, and 10-0 and 5-0 over USM in the Super Regional before Omaha. And that trend continued Monday night as the Rebels collected 13 hits off Arkansas (44-20).
The Rebels hit throughout the lineup as even No. 9 batter Calvin Harris drove in four runs with a two-run home run in the fifth for an 8-3 lead and a two-run double in the third for a 6-3 lead. It was Harris’ second homer of the season. No. 4 hitter Tim Elko put the Rebels up 4-1 in the second inning with his 23rd home run of the season with a man on. Justin Bench went 4-for-6 with two RBIs.
No. 2 starter, freshman left-hander Hunter Elliott, continued the Mississippi mound mastery by limiting Arkansas to six hits and one earned run through six and one-third innings to improve to 5-3. He struck out four with two walks.
All this from an Ole Miss team that received the 33rd and last at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament following its loss in the play-in game of the SEC Tournament and a coach who was on the firing block at that point.
“Obviously, baseball is a big momentum game, and we’re building a lot of momentum right now,” Elliott said. “That’s what you look to do in the postseason and getting hot is a true thing in baseball. Just keep building confidence. That’s what we look to do.”