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From Last Man In To Last Man Standing, Ole Miss Defies Odds To Win College World Series

After barely sneaking into the NCAA Tournament, the Rebels take home their first national title in baseball

Last team in, last team standing. Just the way Ole Miss drew up in February. 

The Rebels always expected to be in Omaha, Neb., come 2022. After eight years of inching closer and closer to a return to the College World Series, this year would be different. It had to be different following the return of veteran talent that wasn't ready to leave The Grove. 

It was different. Not in a good way, but perhaps in the only way Ole Miss fans can consider a success. By May, the Rebels were sitting at 7-14 in conference play and were under the 12-man limit to make the SEC Tournament. Mike Bianco, midway through his 22nd season, wasn't sure if there would be a 23rd on the horizon. 

Bianco nearly departed Oxford the year before. LSU wanted him, and, as an alumnus, who was he not to consider the offer? Then again, why not try to finish what he started back in 2001? 

Ole Miss fought. It fought hard down the stretch to be in line for a shot at the title. And as Brandon Johnson mowed down Oklahoma batters one by one, Rebel nation knew it was time. 

History isn't made in Oxford. It's earned. There's no denying who was college baseball's finest in 2022. 

"Just so proud, as you can only imagine, to get to this point," Bianco said. "We've talked about it the whole time here but even before here, the journey that this team has been through and where they've come from

Any conversation of Bianco being bought out has turned into extension chatter. A 4-2 win Sunday to claim the national title is one part of the story, but it's how Ole Miss made it to the finals that speaks volumes of the coaching staff. 

Sometimes, it's just a team's night to walk away victorious. For Ole Miss, most nights over the past three weeks have ended that way. The Rebels swept the Coral Gables Regional, picking up wins over host Miami and later securing revenge on Arizona from last postseason.

At the Hattiesburg Super Regional, Southern Miss didn't stand a chance. Ole Miss tallied 15 runs in two days to send the program back to Omaha. The only thing more impressive than the high-power offense was the pitching. 

Dylan DeLucia and Jack Dougherty combined for a four-hit outing with 10 strikeouts in game one. Freshman phenom Hunter Elliott mowed down six Golden Eagles a day later while the bullpen struck out five more. 

Once in Omaha, it was the same story. Ole Miss defeated SEC West rival Auburn to open the CWS before obliterating Arkansas, 13-5. 

The Rebels' only loss came to the Razorbacks Wednesday in a stunning 3-2 fashion. The following day, DeLucia perhaps pitched the game of the year with a four-hit shutout to send Ole Miss to its first national title. He was named the MCWS Most Outstanding Player after allowing one earned run, striking out 17 and walking none in 16 2/3 innings.

"It's kind of hard to put them into words. I'm just truly -- I just feel blessed to be a part of this team, to be a part of these coaches," DeLucia said. "They've taught me so much this year."

It was a team effort both days with all three phases reaching its peak. Veterans such as first baseman Tim Elko and outfielder Justin Bench smacked solo homers Saturday night. Outfielders T.J. McCants and Calvin Harris proceeded Bench's long ball with home runs of their own in back-to-back fashion, becoming the first team since LSU in 1998 to accomplish such a feat. 

A 10-3 win put pressure on Oklahoma to strike first. A solo home run from shortstop Jacob Gonzalez in the sixth was the lone mistake on Cade Horton's line, whose 13 strikeouts were a career-best in what likely will be his final college game prior to the MLB draft next month. 

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The Sooners never faltered throughout their time in Omaha, going 3-0 to reach the finals. Sunday wasn't different. A double from second baseman Jackson Nicklaus tied the game in the seventh inning while a bases-loaded walk to outfielder Kendall Pettis gave Oklahoma the lead. 

McCants' leadoff single in the eighth inning was a starting point. Horton's day was done, but Ole Miss was just getting warmed up. Gonzalez would tie the game with an RBI single while a pair of wild pitches off OU reliever Trevin Michael (4-2) plated two more. 

Elliott's efforts would not go to waste. Mason Nichols and John Gaddis (4-2) didn't allow a hit and struck out two before Johnson entering to close things out. Fourteen pitches and three strikeouts later, catcher Hayden Dunhurst sprinted to Johnson and tackled him on the mound. 

The Rebels fell into the dog pile one by one. 

"Ever since you're a little kid, you dream of being on the mound in those situations," Johnson said. "And when it happened, you just let go of yourself because you realize that you did do it."

The trophy will stay in the Magnolia State for another season, but the memories made in Omaha will last forever. Players such as Elko, who tore his ACL in the spring of 2021 yet came back to play in the postseason, will become legends in Oxford. 

So will Gonzalez, who entered Sunday 0-for-12 in his last three games. His hits were limited, but his impact wasn't. 

"That's how we are. We're going to put the pressure on," Gonzalez said. "We're not going to strike out and sit down." 

A Gatorade-soaked Bianco said in his postgame interview that he wanted to hold back tears behind his glasses. That wasn't happening. Neither were the "SEC! SEC!" chants from the fans in the stands. 

With the win, the conference picked up its eighth title since 2009. 

"There is so much to be said for how much we overcame this year, how much we had to fight through, how much we had to pick each other up and never let ourselves get down," Elko said. 

Waiting inside the Ole Miss Performance Center in May, the Rebels quietly hoped for their shot at the postseason. The committee gave them the edge over North Carolina State, though every game was to be played away from Swayze Field. 

Day by day, those Rebels simply rebelled against the norm, going on a 20-6 run to close out the season. They averaged 7.5 runs per game and pitched three shutouts to show the world who they truly were. 

Last team in, last team out. Just like everyone expected. 

"This story of our season is going to be told for years and years and years to come," Elko said. "This is the best Ole Miss baseball team in history, and it feels so good, and it's an honor to be a part of it."

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