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The Rebs Got Hot: How Ole Miss Went From the Bottom of the SEC to the Top of the World In Two Months

Something clicked for the Rebels late in the season en route to its first baseball national championship in program history.

In early February, the Ole Miss Rebels were viewed as an all-around good team even though the 2022 college baseball season had yet to begin.

In the first few weeks of March, the Rebels rose to the top in various polls. Many believed that they were the dream team and had one of the most complete rosters in the country. A few fans here and there were likely already looking at cheap flights to Omaha.

Then, the entire month of April was filled with outrage. After being swept by Tennessee, Ole Miss began to quickly slide down in the rankings. The Rebels found themselves near last place in the SEC and were running out of chances to turn the season around. Fans shared their frustrations on social media, calling for head coach Mike Bianco to step away at the end of the season.

Then, June 26 happened. 

On a sunny afternoon in Omaha, two teams took the field for what would eventually be the final game of the Men’s College World Series. One team hailed from the Big 12 and wore light gray jerseys. The other was a navy-wearing SEC team that had barely made the NCAA Tournament but was suddenly playing on the sport’s biggest stage. 

When the final out was recorded and the scoreboard listed a 4-2 victory, that team was the one falling into a dog pile on the field. It capped off a rollercoaster of a season that would have been fit for Disneyland.

When did the magic begin to happen for Ole Miss? Believe it or not, it might have all started with the Governor’s Cup against in-state rival Mississippi State. The Bulldogs had taken the series in Oxford the week before to put the Rebs at 6-12 on the season. Only three days after the conclusion of the final game, the two teams met again in Pearl for a matchup that wouldn’t count in conference play. 

Ole Miss ultimately walked away with the 5-2 victory, but it meant much more than the shiny trophy and bragging rights. The game served as an RPI boost for the Rebels and gave them a bit of momentum heading into the final four weekends of SEC play.

After the victory in Pearl, Ole Miss went on to finish the regular season with a 14-16 SEC record. The Rebels dropped a series against Arkansas and ended conference play with a series loss to Texas A&M on Senior Day, but back-to-back sweeps against Missouri and LSU helped the team out just enough to crawl back into consideration for the postseason. 

The Rebels bowed out in the first game of the SEC Tournament with a close loss to Vanderbilt, leading many to believe that there was no way the season could continue. However, falling out of the conference tournament early has appeared to be beneficial in years past, and that was proven true again in 2022.

Ole Miss had to wait a long time to hear its name called on selection day; the Coral Gables Regional was one of the last sites to be announced. Not only that, the team soon learned that it was the last team to make it into the tournament. The Rebs had been lucky to slip in.

Bianco's squad wasn't given much of a chance to beat nationally-seeded Miami in Coral Gables, especially since they had some work to do before they could face the Hurricanes. An Arizona Wildcats team that had defeated Ole Miss in the 2021 Super Regionals was hungrily waiting for the rematch. To the surprise of just about everyone, Ole Miss made the difficult regional seem too easy. 

Dylan DeLucia and Hunter Elliott dominated on the mound, and Tim Elko became the team’s hero offensively yet again. For the third-consecutive season, the Rebs were heading to a Super Regional.

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Super Regionals are always tense, but there was an added layer of suspense surrounding Ole Miss’ pending matchup; the team was set to visit Southern Miss in Hattiesburg. One Magnolia State team was guaranteed to make it to Omaha, while the other would be staying home.

The in-state foes had already faced off twice on the season, with each team picking up one win and ultimately splitting the season series. 

When it truly mattered, however, it was all Ole Miss. 

The Rebels held USM scoreless and throttled one of the nation’s best pitching staffs at the plate, amassing 15 runs through two games. Everyone contributed to the team’s success, and for the first time since 2014, the Rebs were Omaha bound.

Ole Miss was viewed as arguably the biggest underdog upon reaching the College World Series, but the Rebels fought hard. They quickly rose to 2-0 after defeating Auburn and Arkansas and held the momentum on their side of the bracket. Even with a loss to Arkansas in the next game to force a winner-take-all contest, it certainly felt like the Rebs were destined to advance. 

They did just that, squeaking out a 2-0 victory over the Razorbacks thanks to a career performance from DeLucia.

Oklahoma was considered one of the hottest teams in the country heading into the championship matchup against the Rebels. In the end, it didn’t look that way. 

Ole Miss swept the Sooners in two games, with a 10-3 victory in the first matchup and a 4-2 win to seal the deal. The Rebels went from last in to last out, and they helped the Magnolia State won its second-straight national championship.

Through all of that, it’s hard to pinpoint one definite thing that helped Ole Miss turn its season around for good. Sure, some games built momentum and boosted the team’s RPI, but there wasn't a single game or individual player that served as the sole reason why the team made it to the NCAA Tournament.

Rather, the team members rallied behind each other to make it all possible. Every pitcher who entered the game in the postseason dominated despite bullpen struggles that were evident through much of the year. Elko had the chance to solidify his place in Ole Miss lore, and Kevin Graham wasn’t far behind him. TJ McCants, Peyton Chatagnier and Jacob Gonzalez proved why Coach Bianco gave them chances even when they went through slumps that resulted in plenty of criticism. Kemp Alderman and Calvin Harris were young heroes, while senior Garrett Wood had unforgettable moments when given a chance to play. 

When most of the odds seemed to be against them, they worked to get better and play like they knew they could until everyone had a special moment and the coveted trophy was being hoisted for a crowd of red and blue to admire.

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