How did we get to this point?
Just a few short weeks ago, the Ole Miss Rebels appeared to be dead in the water after a first round exit in the SEC Tournament. Would the Rebels make it to the NCAA Tournament, or would the program miss the postseason and possibly have its head coach fired in the process?
The Rebels squeaked into the postseason field of play as one of the last four teams in, and since Selection Monday, a switch has seemingly flipped with this team. The mindset is different. The confidence is different.
In short, the swagger is back, the same swagger we thought this team would have all season.
We may never fully know what led to this miraculous turnaround for Ole Miss, but it could be attributed to simply becoming loose once the Rebels made it into the postseason. That combined with the advent of Dylan DeLucia and Hunter Elliott as elite starters in the pitching rotation have helped right the ship for a team that seemed lifeless at the beginning of May.
Now, it will play a best-of-three series for the national championship after knocking off the Arkansas Razorbacks on Thursday.
"I just stayed with it," DeLucia said after Thursday's complete game shutout of Arkansas. "I just looked up and saw all those zeros going into the eighth, and I was just like, 'It's my time to finally finish this game.'"
That mindset from a starting pitcher was something that Ole Miss didn't have early in the season, even when it had climbed to No. 1 in the national polls prior to conference play. The Rebels couldn't find an arm who could be relied on to give them length on the mound and save the bullpen.
Now, by comparison, in their last two starts in Omaha, DeLucia and Elliott have both gone over six innings to start their respective games.
It's also worth noting that Mike Bianco has done a tremendous job with this team, a group that was nationally hyped entering the season and seemed to fall off a cliff before coming back into form at the right time. He likely knew what was on the line, including his job, and when all hope seemed lost, he was able to pilot this ship to a chance to win a national championship.
Regardless of how you felt on Bianco's job security this year, that's an amazing feat.
"Just proud," Bianco said on Thursday. "I think as we continue to win games and move forward, it was neat. A lot of people have the goal to be here, right? One of the challenges we talked about is to not just come here, but to win.
"This is a tournament where it's like basketball, you're supposed to win and move on. Just proud that they continued to believe in one another. They've played well."
Yesterday's momentous achievement was even sweeter after the disappointment that came with Wednesday where the Rebels lost a 3-2 dogfight with the Razorbacks where they had the bases loaded an no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and failed to capture a win.
"That was one of the challenges we said this morning, that nobody said it was going to be easy," Bianco said. "It's not supposed to be easy. You've got to be tough enough to handle it. Maybe somebody asked, maybe some of that April toughened us, weathered us a little bit to be able to handle last night and be able to bounce back today."
Wednesday's loss stings due to the fact that DeLucia was forced to pitch on Thursday instead of potentially opening the championship series for the Rebels on Saturday. Even so, Thursday's performance cemented him forever as an Ole Miss legend, and the best pitching performance in school history couldn't have come at a better time.
It's been a rollercoaster of a season for Ole Miss, but the Rebels can finish no worse than the College World Series runner-up. That's a story we'll all remember for years to come.
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