OMAHA — For six innings sturdy Dylan DeLucia had pitched the game of his life. He had faced 19 Auburn batters and retired 18, mixing pinpoint control of his 92-93 mph fastball with a devastating slider. Ole Miss led 5-0.
Then, in the seventh, Auburn led off the inning with three straight hits to score a run and prompt a mound visit from No. 5, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco. DeLucia had thrown 84 pitches to that point.
Would Bianco take him out? Or leave him in?
Bianco had no intentions — none at all, he said afterward — of lifting DeLucia.
“I just wanted to check him emotionally,” Bianco said. “He’s tough as heck, but, man, he can be emotional. And I just wanted to make sure that we kind of calmed him down a little bit and got him back in the zone. That was it. I knew his stuff was good. … And so, I didn’t see a reason for him to come out with that lead.”
Wise decision — one that helped the Rebels win 5-1.
DeLucia struck out the next batter, then got the next two with a weak fly ball and a pop-out. He fanned the first two Auburn batters in the eighth inning, too.
Said Bianco, “That’s what the good ones do. The good ones make pitches and get off the field. They don’t let it blow up on them. Dylan did that tonight.”
DeLucia — “Loosh” to his teammates and his fans — was only marvelous. He wound up going 7.2 innings, allowing four hits and striking out 10. He pitched ahead in the count throughout and didn’t walk a single batter.
“DeLucia threw his fastball above us and his slider below us,” said Auburn coach Butch Thompson, an Amory native and former Mississippi State pitching coach.
Ole Miss got all the runs the Rebs would need in the first inning, plating two runs on Kemp Alderman’s smashed two-run, line-drive single to left field. Kevin Graham, who had doubled before that, then added a solo home run to left field in the third, and the Rebels scored two more in the sixth.
So this fairy tale-like Ole Miss postseason continues. After finishing the season with a mundane 32-22 record and coming within an eyelash of being left out of the NCAA Tournament, the Rebels have now won six straight NCAA games and have out-scored their opponents by a whopping 51-12. That’s right: 51 to 12.
The Rebels will face Arkansas, which earlier in the day slammed No. 2 Stanford 17-2, on Monday at 6 p.m. The winner of that one will be just one victory away from playing in the College World Series best-of-three championship series.
On paper, Arkansas is a better team. The Razorbacks’ victory over Stanford was the most lopsided CWS game in 34 years. Arkansas, which has won 44 games, won two of three from Ole Miss at Fayetteville the last weekend of April.
Clearly, this is a different Ole Miss team than it was a month and a half ago. These Rebels are playing baseball at a high, high level in every facet of the sport. They are pitching it well, pounding the strike zone. They are hitting it hard and doing so when it matters most. Take Alderman’s first inning single that came with two outs. Indeed, all three Ole Miss hits in that inning came with two out. That’s what coaches call timely hitting. The Rebels have done it throughout this 6-0 NCAA run. They are catching it and throwing it well, too. A case in point: If you didn’t see it, you should have seen catcher Hayden Dunhurst whip a pick-off throw to first base for the third out of the eighth inning. If you blinked, you missed it.
Another huge part of this Ole Miss run is the bullpen. Josh Mallitz, who replaced DeLucia with two outs in the eighth, struck out the side in the ninth inning. Mallitz has been practically unhittable in the postseason.
Something amazing: The Rebels have pitched and played so well here lately, closer Brandon Johnson has been almost like the Maytag repairman. You don’t bring in your closer when you have a big lead, and the Rebels have enjoyed one in nearly all these postseason games.
They are a confident team.
Asked how the Rebels felt about playing Arkansas again, Graham responded, “Good. At this point it doesn’t matter who you’re playing. Everybody is good. Everybody can beat everybody.”
Count Ole Miss very much in that number.