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COLUMN: Oklahoma Wasn't Sharp – and Ole Miss Made the Sooners Pay

Early wild pitches and an uncharacteristic fielding error staked the Rebels to an early four-run lead, and the Sooners' bats fell quiet as Ole Miss dominated Game 1.

OMAHA — Oklahoma didn’t have its best stuff on Saturday. Then again, neither did Ole Miss. But the Rebels — a team very much comprised of similar grit to the Sooners — were better. 

OU took its first loss of this year’s College World Series at the wrong time — 10-3 in Game 1 of the best-of-3 championship series — and the Rebels are now one win away from their first baseball national championship.

It would add another national title to the SEC’s growing roll call, and would follow last year’s championship won by Mississippi State.

OU needs to win Sunday’s 2 p.m. rematch, then come back and win again on Monday at 6.

"I'm glad this happened," said OU first baseman Blake Robertson. "We're gonna learn from our lesson. We're gonna get back and slow everything down. It's a three-game series for a reason."

There's plenty of improvements to be made against a driven Mississippi squad fueled by a partisan Ole Miss crowd.

"I would say there was probably 20,000 Rebels there," said first baseman Tim Elko, who had a home run among his four hits. "Super environment."

"Man," said Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, "it felt like a football game out there."

Ace left-hander Jake Bennett wasn’t bad in his second start at Charles Schwab Field (he defeated Texas A&M in the opener back on June 17), but he matched his season total of three wild pitches by throwing three in the first two innings alone. All three Rebels baserunners who advanced on Bennett’s throws eventually scored. Bennett went 6 1/3 innings and gave ups seven hits, but didn’t walk anyone and logged 10 strikeouts.

Peyton Graham, normally a glue board at shortstop, booted a hot ground ball in the first inning, allowing an unearned run to score.

The OU bats, so dynamic throughout this postseason surge, were deafeningly silent against Ole Miss starter Jack Dougherty

"I found out yesterday I was gonna start," Dougherty said. "My mom actually got mad at me because I didn't tell her."

Dougherty, who came in with a pedestrian 3-3 record and a modest 5.08 earned run average, made his fourth start of the season (he’d thrown just 39 innings) and no-hit Oklahoma through five innings.

"They took the momentum from early in the game," Johnson said.

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The Sooners (45-23) have played the underdog role well throughout the postseason, but they didn’t handle the moment Saturday as even a slight favorite.

Ole Miss (41-23) out-underdogged the underdog. Did the Sooners have an early case of jitters?

"I don't think so at all," said coach Skip Johnson. "It might have sped up on 'em a little bit."

"I honestly don't think there was jitters at all," said Robertson. "They came out hotter than we did."

OU nearly rallied in the sixth inning as Jackson Nicklaus broke up the no-hitter with a single up the middle and Sebastian Orduno followed with a single to right field. Kendall Pettis laid down a perfect bunt single and Nicklaus got the Sooners on the scoreboard by racing home on a throwing error.

A walk by John Spikerman loaded the bases with nobody out, but after a pitching change to Mason Nichols to face the heart of the Sooners’ lineup, Graham and Blake Robertson struck out swinging and Jimmy Crooks grounded back to the mound to kill the rally.

OU might have built some momentum with those two runs in the sixth, but those hopes died in the eighth.

Relief pitcher Chazz Martinez gave up three consecutive home runs in the top of the eighth — the first time that’s been done at the College World Series since 1998 — and the Ole Miss lead swelled to 8-2. In all, the Rebels logged 16 hits and mashed four home runs.

"We put some balls in their hot zone," Johnson said, "and they deposited them."

The Oklahoma bats struggled to solve Nichols, who struck out the side in the seventh. Nichols pitched two innings and finished with five strikeouts, and and didn’t fare much better against Josh Mallitz.

"They were all making good pitches," Robertson said, "and they were executing."

"They definitely came out hot," Bennett said. "But I mean, we were still in it. Sun's gonna come out tomorrow. Just gotta get ready to play."

Sunday’s game will pit co-aces in what could be a pitchers duel. Ole Miss’ Hunter Elliott (5-3, 2.70) and OU’s Cade Horton (5-2, 5.24) are expected to get the call as the Sooners try to stretch their title hopes to Monday.

"We woke up this morning and still had to win two games," Johnson said. "We'll wake up tomorrow morning and still have to win two games. So it happens.

"We gotta continue to get better, learn from our lesson today and move on."