Surely there are Oklahoma players and fans wondering this today: How can Ole Miss possibly top the brilliant pitching performance of Jack Dougherty, Mason Nichols and Josh Mallitz on Saturday, which followed the brilliant pitching performance of Dylan DeLucia on Thursday? How deep is that well? Heads up Sooners, ’cause here comes Hunter Elliott, who’ll start Game 2 of the College World Series with the national title in the Rebels’ grasp. Elliott, the freshman left-hander from Tupelo, has, in his last four starts, beaten LSU, Southern Miss and Arkansas and pitched masterfully in a no-decision against Miami. He is 5-3, 2.70 ERA, on the season. And he’ll have Rebel Nation roaring with every strike he throws in Omaha today. … The Houston Astros’ three-man no-hitter against the New York Yankees on Saturday marked the first time the Yanks had been no-hit since June 11, 2003, when Holmes Community College product Roy Oswalt and former Jackson Generals star Billy Wagner started and finished, respectively, a six-man no-no for the Astros at the old Yankee Stadium. … Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn’s return to the Chicago White Sox’s rotation has not exactly sparked a team resurgence (see previous post). Lynn, coming off knee surgery, is 1-1 with a 6.19 ERA in his three starts, and the team is 6-6 since his return. He was roughed up Saturday by Baltimore. In 16 innings, Lynn has yielded 20 hits and three walks. … Mississippi State alum Ethan Small, bidding for another shot in The Show, threw seven strong innings for Nashville on Saturday, leading Milwaukee’s Triple-A club to a 2-1 win against Gwinnett. Small (4-3, 3.18) allowed three hits and one run and punched out 10, getting rehabbing big leaguer Eddie Rosario twice. … Jackson Prep alum Will Warren had the “unicorn slider” (see previous post) working Saturday, hurling 5 1/3 shutout innings in a win for Double-A Somerset in the Yankees’ chain. The right-hander allowed four hits and three walks with seven K’s. There is speculation, per MLB Trade Rumors, that the Yankees might use Warren as trade bait for a big league arm.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco’s first comment from Thursday’s postgame press conference summed it up nicely: “Just wow.” Wow captures the performance by junior right-hander Dylan DeLucia, who threw a four-hit shutout to beat Arkansas 2-0 and propel the Rebels into the College World Series best-of-3 final. Appropriately, DeLucia punched out the last batter, his seventh K of the day. Wow. The Rebels and the throng of UM fans at Charles Schwab Field went wild. “It’s amazing,” DeLucia said in a postgame interview on ESPN. “I don’t even have kind of words for it right now. It’s a blessing.” It was the eighth win of this remarkable season for DeLucia and the eighth win of this remarkable postseason for the Rebels. But pump the brakes for a minute. Eight is not enough. It’ll take two more to win the national title, to match archrival Mississippi State’s accomplishment from a year ago. Next up is Oklahoma, which is on a run essentially as amazing as the Rebels’. Unranked in preseason, pegged to finish fifth in the Big 12, OU went 15-9 in the league and won the conference tournament. The Sooners then took down Florida in Gainesville in the regionals, beat No. 4 national seed Virginia Tech in the Super Regional and stand 3-0 in Omaha with two wins over No. 5 seed Texas A&M. That deserves a wow. Led by Tanner Treadway (.488 in the NCAAs), OU can rake as well as Ole Miss. The Rebels might have an edge in arms: They have allowed just 2.2 runs per game in the NCAAs. Will that pitching hold up this weekend? The Rebels need two more W’s to put a final wow on this season.
There was magic in Omaha, where Ole Miss dispatched Arkansas 13-5 Monday night and is, to borrow a phrase from Hall of Famer Red Barber, sitting in the catbird seat at 2-0 in its bracket of the College World Series. Another strong start from Hunter Elliott, another home run from Tim Elko and a four-hit, four-run game from Justin Bench carried the Rebels to their seventh straight postseason victory. They are riding a wave that began on Selection Monday, when the NCAA handed them a regional bid that was far from certain. As coach Mike Bianco recently said, “When our name was called — I’ve been there for 21 of these and 18 times our name was called — I don’t remember any of those 18 times ever seeing that type of emotion from our team.”
Former Rebels star Lance Lynn, perhaps drawing on the Omaha vibe, went five innings (three runs) to launch the Chicago White Sox to an 8-7 win over Toronto. It was Lynn’s second start of 2022 after a long stint on the injured list. Former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman, who knows a little bit about Omaha (see 2013), also got in on the act for the White Sox, throwing a scoreless eighth inning for his 13th hold.
There was some magic, too, in Atlanta, where Orlando Arcia, one of the original Biloxi Shuckers, delivered a game-winning hit for the surging Braves, scoring pinch-runner Phil Gosselin, a Mississippi Braves star from 10 years ago, with the clincher in a 2-1 win against San Francisco. Arcia, the fill-in for Ozzie Albies at second base, is batting .338 this season with 13 RBIs and two walk-offs. Gosselin, called up when Albies was injured, was originally drafted by the Braves and bounced through six other organizations before returning this year.
For what it’s worth — probably not much — 247sports.com predicts that Ole Miss will last just three games in the College World Series, beating Auburn, then losing to Arkansas and Stanford. Saturday’s opener against Auburn does loom large. The teams’ mid-March meeting doesn’t provide much of a gauge. The Rebels won 13-6 and 15-2 (in the rubber game) and lost 19-5. Neither of UM’s emergent aces — Dylan DeLucia and Hunter Elliott — started in that series, though both pitched well in relief in the wins. The Rebels’ pitching depth beyond those two and closer Brandon Johnson, which held up nicely in the regional and Super Regional, will be tested in Omaha. … Up in the Cape Cod League, Kellum Clark is off to a hot start for Wareham. The Mississippi State sophomore from Brandon went 3-for-5 with three doubles and three RBIs in a win on Thursday and is 4-for-10 in three games in the elite summer league. … The slumping Mississippi Braves could use some spark, and there’s a player at High-Class A Rome bidding for a promotion to the Double-A club. Shortstop Vaughn Grissom, a top 10 prospect in Atlanta’s system, is batting .288 with eight homers, 39 RBIs and 12 steals for the R-Braves. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Grissom hit two grand slams in a 4-for-7 effort on Thursday. … MSU alum Jordan Westburg is batting .414 with three homers and nine RBIs in his first seven games for Triple-A Norfolk in Baltimore’s system. Wonder if the awful Orioles might give him a look later this summer? … Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson went 1-for-3 with a homer for Triple-A Memphis on Thursday in his first rehab assignment for St. Louis. Dickerson was batting .194 for the Cardinals when he injured a hamstring on June 4. … East Central CC product Tim Anderson is 4-for-11 in three games for Triple-A Charlotte on his rehab assignment. Anderson, who went down with a groin injury on May 30, was batting .356 in 40 games for the Chicago White Sox. … Hunter Renfroe is known for his power bat and cannon arm — not his wheels. The ex-State standout, playing for Milwaukee, tried to score from first base on a hit into the right-field corner against the New York Mets on Thursday. Didn’t work out. He was cut down for the second out in the ninth inning of the Brewers’ 5-4 loss at CitiField.
Regardless of which school you root for, you have to be impressed by what the collective bunch has done in baseball. Ole Miss is going to the College World Series. Nineteen times in the last 66 years, Mississippi has sent one of its NCAA Division I schools to Omaha, with Mississippi State winning it all in 2021 in its 12th visit. It ain’t easy to get to Omaha. The postseason, starting with conference tournaments, is a grinder. Sixty-four teams get into the NCAAs; eight get to Omaha. Five No. 1 seeds didn’t get out of their regional this year. The overall No. 1 seed (Tennessee) just lost in the Super Regional. Southern Miss, a regional host, survived a five-game dogfight to advance but seemingly had nothing left for Ole Miss in the Hattiesburg Super Regional, failing to score a run in two games. So Ole Miss, which barely made the NCAA field after a mercurial regular season, is Omaha-bound as a regional 3-seed. This will be the Rebels’ sixth trip, second under Mike Bianco, the school’s all-time winningest coach who nevertheless has taken a lot of heat for his teams’ postseason shortcomings. But what’s past is past. Bianco’s current club may have caught lightning in a bottle this postseason. They’ve pitched. They’ve hit. They’ve won five straight, practically in a stroll. It figures to get tougher in Omaha, but would you bet against them? It’ll be interesting to see how UM fans turn out at the CWS. MSU fans took over the ballpark last year, playing a large role in the Bulldogs’ success. That first D-I natty was a big deal for the Magnolia State. Another would be no less special.
Baseball means a lot in Mississippi. If you live here, you know that already. After what transpired in Omaha this week, it should be apparent to any- and everyone who follows the game. Mississippi State’s national championship is a source of pride for the state, regardless of whether you’re a Bulldogs fan. Having made 12 trips to the College World Series, four in the last nine years, State is firmly established as one of the nation’s best programs. The first national title is merely an affirmation that outsiders will notice. Hats off to Chris Lemonis and crew for getting it done. Ron Polk transformed the MSU program into a beast, and other state schools have followed that wave. Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Jackson State, Delta State and William Carey have been consistent winners led by a succession of great coaches — Bianco, Denson, Berry, Braddy, Johnson, Ferriss, Kinnison, Halford, to name a few. DSU (2004) and Carey (1969) have won national titles. Millsaps, Belhaven, Mississippi College and even the fledgling programs at Blue Mountain and MUW have had shining moments in recent seasons. The state’s junior college league ranks with the best in the nation and produced a national champ (Jones College) in 2013. Kids in Mississippi high schools yearn to play on the state’s grand stages, Dudy Noble Field, Taylor Park, Ferriss Field, Dub Herring Park, et al. Youth league opportunities and training facilities seemingly abound, including the new Hank Aaron Sports Academy at Smith-Wills Stadium. Mississippi produces, per capita, more major league players than practically every other state. A Baseball America survey in 2018 put Mississippi fourth behind only Florida, California and Georgia in the relative number of pros produced from 2011-17. This season, 29 Mississippians (natives, prep or college alums) have appeared on a major league roster. Eleven of those are MSU products. The Bulldogs’ national title should compel folks outside the state to notice. Yes, baseball means a lot here.
2 – National championships by four-year schools in Mississippi: William Carey in NAIA in 1969 and Delta State in NCAA Division II in 2004. (Jones College won a junior college title in 2013.)
7 – Wins this season by Houston Harding, Mississippi State’s projected starter in tonight’s Game 2 of the College World Series finals. The left-hander also got a W in 2020 and won 19 in two years at Itawamba Community College. He beat Campbell in the regional and got no-decisions vs. Notre Dame in the super regional and Texas in the CWS.
3 – Wins this season by Christian Little, Vanderbilt’s projected starter in Game 2 of the CWS finals. The 17-year-old, 6-foot-4 freshman right-hander – a January enrollee — went 5 1/3 innings (one run) in a Vandy victory vs. Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament but was not the pitcher of record. He also worked against Tennessee, Louisville and Stanford.
873 – Feet covered by Hunter Renfroe’s two home runs in Boston’s win over Kansas City on Monday. Mississippi State alum Renfroe now has 11 homers on the year and is batting .340 with six bombs in his last 30 games.
1 – Earned run allowed by rookie Nick Sandlin for Cleveland in 10 June appearances. The Southern Miss product worked a clean inning in a win against Detroit on Monday and now has a 2.08 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings over 19 games.
0.47 – Brandon Woodruff’s ERA in three games vs. the Chicago Cubs this season. The ex-MSU star, 6-3 with a 1.89 on the season, will start for host Milwaukee tonight against National League Central rival Chicago.
1 – Hit, a single, in two at-bats for Blaze Jordan in his pro debut on Monday. Jordan, a third-round pick out of DeSoto Central High by Boston in 2020, is playing for the Red Sox’s Florida Complex League team.
Back in April, which seems like such a long time ago, College World Series finalists Mississippi State and Vanderbilt hooked up in Nashville for an SEC series. The Commodores, behind the pitching of Ace 1A Kumar Rocker and the lesser known duo of Chris McElvain and Nick Maldonado, took two of three from the Bulldogs. Rocker pitched a three-hitter in the opener and McElvain and Maldonado provided stout relief in the rubber game in which State couldn’t hold an early 4-0 lead. State’s win in Game 2 was an eye-opener, as Will Bednar, with a big assist from Landon Sims, beat Vandy’s other ace, Jack Leiter, who hadn’t lost a game in his Vandy career. Rowdey Jordan and Logan Tanner homered off Leiter. The pitching matchups for the best-of-3 CWS finals, which start Monday, haven’t been announced, though it’s a good bet Leiter will start the opener. How much should be made of the April meeting? It can’t be totally dismissed, but, of course, the stakes are little different this week. And then there’s the atmosphere. The biggest crowd at Vandy’s Hawkins Field during the April series was 1,407, very few of them State fans. TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha will be a sea of maroon. Think it’ll make a difference?
Was there something in the air on Tuesday night? Cue Phil Collins. Mississippi State got thunder (Tanner Allen) and lightning (Landon Sims) in a supercharged comeback win in the College World Series in Omaha, and that vibe seemed to spread to Bulldogs alums scattered around the pro landscape. At Tampa Bay, Hunter Renfroe homered and drove in three runs in a Boston win. At Pittsburgh, Adam Frazier homered and scored twice in the Pirates’ victory against the Chicago White Sox. (The win went to David Bednar, brother of Will, State’s star from Sunday.) In Seattle, Kendall Graveman pitched a perfect ninth for the save as the Mariners beat Colorado. Mitch Moreland and Nate Lowe were on opposing sides in the Oakland-Texas game, but whether they felt the vibe, we can’t be sure. Neither played. Down in Triple-A, Brent Rooker hit another bomb in a win by St. Paul, and Jacob Robson went yard in Toledo’s win. In Double-A, Jake Mangum took an 0-for-4 for Binghamton but did enjoy the view from center field in his team’s no-hitter. And, hey, the Arizona Diamondbacks should be on notice today: Brandon Woodruff gets the start looking for his sixth win for Milwaukee. Don’t bet against him. P.S. Incidentally, Renfroe, Frazier, Graveman, Robson and Woodruff were teammates on the 2013 State team that made the CWS finals. Jonathan Holder (currently on the MLB injured list) and Jacob Lindgren (now with the independent Kansas City Monarchs; he pitched a scoreless inning in a win on Tuesday) were also on that club.
William Carey brought one home in 1969. Delta State did it in 2004, Jones College in 2016. Mississippi State gets to try, try again this month to do what no NCAA Division I school from Mississippi has done before: Win a national title. Carey won the NAIA crown, DSU in NCAA D-II and Jones in NJCAA D-II. The Bulldogs earned their 12th trip to Omaha and the College World Series by spanking Notre Dame 11-7 Monday in Game 3 of the Starkville Super Regional before a crazy crowd at Dudy Noble Field. State can’t take that crowd to Omaha but will take SEC player of the year Tanner Allen, highly rated MLB draft prospect starters Will Bednar and Christian MacLeod and the hottest closer going, Landon Sims. State’s side of the CWS bracket includes No. 2 national seed Texas and No. 3 Tennessee. Vanderbilt, Arizona and Stanford lurk on the other side. Knock-down, drag-out battles should be expected. But the Bulldogs are one of eight with a chance. They’ve come close before, taking second in 2013 and third in 1985 with the Clark-Palmeiro-Brantley-Thigpen team that was probably the most talented the state has seen. Winning the last game of the season is tough. In the 2011 film “Moneyball” that was – and remains — Billy Beane’s great lament: “If you lose the last game of the season, nobody gives a (flip).” That’s not entirely true. State has enjoyed another great ride in 2021. But if the Bulldogs do manage to win the last one, to bring home a “natty,” it’s hard to imagine what the celebration in Bulldog Nation would be like.