Ole Miss's Hunter Elliott pitches during an NCAA baseball game against Miami on Sunday, June 5, 2022 in Coral Gables, Fla. (AP Photo/Doug Murray)

We knew last week there would be a strong Mississippi flavor to the 2022 College World Series. That’s because we knew Ole Miss and Southern Miss were playing for the right to go to Omaha.

Rick Cleveland

But we didn’t know the half of it.

Ole Miss swept Southern Miss and arrived in Omaha Wednesday. There, the Rebels, with their 11 Mississippi natives on the roster, will likely bump into several others with strong Mississippi ties.

Start with the Auburn Tigers, Ole Miss’ first round opponent Saturday at 6 p.m. The Auburn manager is none other than Amory product Butch Thompson, the former pitching coach for John Cohen at Mississippi State. Long before Thompson became a widely respected coach, be was an Amory Wildcats football standout for Mississippi coaching legend Bobby Hall.

“Butch played defensive end for me way back when,” Hall said. “Tough, tough kid. He was from the Wren community, about three miles due west on Highway 78. We had lots of really good, really tough football players from Wren and he was one. His senior year (1987) we made it to the State Championship game.”

Thompson, a lefty, also pitched for Amory and then for Itawamba Community College. He retains close ties across the state. Indeed, Bryson Ware, a part-time starter as a junior in the outfield for the Tigers, played high school ball at Germantown, where he was a first-team all-state selection.

Win or lose Saturday, Ole Miss will run into another Mississippian on Monday. The Auburn-Ole Miss winner will play the the Arkansas-Stanford winner Monday at 6 p.m. The losers will play Monday at 1 p.m.

Freshman All-American Braden Montgomery of Madison Central, Mississippi’s 2021 high school player of the year, is a two-way standout for Stanford. Brady Tygart, a true freshman pitcher from Lewisburg, has been outstanding out of the bullpen for Arkansas.

Montgomery, Stanford’s cleanup hitter and an outstanding defensive outfielder, also started three games as a pitcher and pitched in relief in 12 other games. Seems as though there’s nothing Montgomery, who hit 18 home runs and drove home 57 runs, can’t do in baseball — or in the classroom. He scored a perfect 36 on the ACT, presumably why he turned down what would have been seven-figure contract in professional baseball to attend Stanford.

Says Madison Central baseball coach Patrick Robey, “I am lucky. Some guys coach their entire lives and never get to coach one as great as Braden. The young man is just so talented and so focused. Nothing he does surprises me.”

Should Ole Miss and Stanford play one another on Monday, the game would feature a rematch of Ole Miss freshman left hander Hunter Elliott pitching to Montgomery, as happened in the first game of last year’s 6A North State championship series when Madison Central played Elliott’s Tupelo High School. Montgomery won a 2-0 pitchers duel in what Robey called “one of the best high school baseball games I’ve ever seen.”

Both Elliott and Montgomery were honored this season as freshmen All-Americans. So, too, was Arkansas’ Tygart. The strapping right-hander, who played for Lewisburg and lives in Hernando, pitched in 23 games out of the bullpen for the Razorbacks and led the team in saves with eight — more than twice as many as any other on the pitching staff. He struck out 51 batters in 37.2 innings.

Think about it: Three of the key pitchers on three different teams on one side of the College World Series bracket all pitched just last year in the Mississippi Class 6A baseball tournament.

Says Robey, the Madison Central coach, “It just shows how much talent — and how good the baseball is — in Mississippi. I mean, we’ve got Mississippi State, the defending national champion in college baseball, and Pearl River, which won the national junior college championship, and Ole Miss and Southern both in a Super Regional. All of them have a lot of Mississippi guys. It’s amazing, really, and it just keeps getting better and better and better.”

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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.