Ole Miss players salute fans in the stands after a win over Southern Miss in the first game of an NCAA college baseball tournament super regional Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Hattiesburg, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

HATTIESBURG — The Ole Miss Rebels won only seven of their first 21 SEC games. They were one and done in the SEC Tournament. They dropped from No. 1 in the nation early in the season to far out of the various college baseball polls.

Many Ole Miss fans were openly calling for Coach Mike Bianco’s dismissal, saying the game had passed him by. Most bracket experts thought the Rebels had little hope, if any, of receiving an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Rick Cleveland

And now, Bianco’s Rebels stand one victory away from the College World Series at Omaha, and that victory could come Sunday.

The Bible had Lazarus. College baseball has Ole Miss.

The Rebels dispatched the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, the No. 11 seed in the tournament and winners of 47 games, 10-0 on Saturday to win the first game of the Hattiesburg Super Regional. The two teams square off again today in the oven Pete Taylor Park becomes this time of the year. Simply put, if Ole Miss wins, Ole Miss goes to Omaha. If Southern Miss wins, they’ll play again Monday at a time to be determined.

The announced attendance was 5,474, of which more than 4,500 were Southern Miss fans. Those gold-clad fans, loud to begin with, were drowned out in the end by the Ole Miss cheering section down the first baseline. The Hotty Toddies had plenty to cheer.

Ole Miss had only one anxious moment. The Rebels led 3-0 when Southern Miss loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. Reece Ewing yanked a Dylan DeLucia pitch down the right field line that cleared the fence right at the foul pole. Foul or fair? Grand slam or loud foul?

Ewing clearly thought it was fair. DeLucia? “Honestly, I didn’t know if it was foul or fair,” DeLucia said. “Sure am glad it was foul.”

It was so close plate umpire Linus Baker called for a video review. After a long delay, the call on the field was upheld. DeLucia, who was only splendid for the Rebels, fanned Ewing with a wicked slider on the next pitch — by far the biggest pitch of the game.

And then Ole Miss scored seven runs in the sixth, and what what looked for a moment like it might be a 4-3 game with Southern Miss leading became a 10-0 Rebel runaway.

Best evidence that the umpires got it right? This: There wasn’t a full-scale riot in the Right Field Roost where hundreds of the most rabid of Southern Miss fans sit, cheer, eat barbecue and have been known to consume more than a few adult beverages.

Your dutiful reporter went right to the source for conclusive evidence. Said a gold-clad fan, between gulps of a Miller Lite, “It was a foul ball — dammit.”

Ole Miss proceeded to do what LSU couldn’t do last weekend. The Rebels beat Southern Miss right-hander Hurston Waldrep, who Bianco said “is going to be a Big Leaguer. He’s terrific.”

Waldrep struck out 12 Rebels in just five innings. But Ole Miss was patient enough at the plate to draw four walks and opportunistic enough to touch Waldrep up for six hits. The Ole Miss legend, also known as Tim Elko, produced two of the hits and knocked in three of the runs.

Meanwhile, DeLucia did what he has been doing since mid-April, which is string zeroes across the scoreboard. Said Bianco of DeLucia, “He not only gives a good chance to win, he gives us a great chance to win. He has pretty much saved our season.”

Said Southern Miss coach Scott Berry, “We had our chances, but that young man really stepped up for them. He pitched really well.”

DeLucia went 5.2 innings, throwing 108 pitches and allowing only four hits. Jack Dougherty then pitched 3.1 innings of hitless relief. This was a Super Regional billed by many as Ole Miss’ superb hitting against Southern Miss’ exceptional pitching. DeLucia and Dougherty, at least for one game, have rewritten that script. Ole Miss can pitch it, too.

We’ve come to expect such heroics from the likes of Elko and DeLucia. But to win at this time of the year in college baseball, a team needs help from where you don’t necessarily expect it. Enter little-used third baseman Garrett Wood, who hit a run-scoring double, scored a run himself and walked three times. Not bad for a guy known as a defensive replacement.

Of Wood, Bianco said, “It’s really cool. … Good things happen to good people and that is certainly the case here. He’s one of the most popular guys on our team. Everybody loves him. He’s always upbeat, always a smile on his face.”

Anybody who believes this Super Regional is a done deal now hasn’t been paying attention. Southern Miss was in a worse situation last weekend in the Hattiesburg Regional when, after a Saturday night loss to LSU, the Golden Eagles had to come back and win three games in two days and beat LSU twice in the process.

“We’ve had our backs against the wall before,” Berry said. ”We’re not ready to be done with this season. We have the pitching to still win this thing. We’ve just got to start hitting.”

Somebody asked Bianco if his Rebels might be looking ahead to Omaha. Bianco smiled as if break into laughter.

“Really,” he answered. “I don’t think they are looking ahead to anything. They know what they are playing for. You don’t have to remind them.”

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.