Ole Miss starting pitcher Dylan DeLucia, left, and catcher Hayden Dunhurst (13) hug after the team's win over Arkansas during an NCAA College World Series baseball game Thursday, June 23, 2022, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/John Peterson)

OMAHA — So, several folks have asked two interesting questions in the last 24 hours.

Where does making the national championship at this College World Series rank in importance in Ole Miss sports history? Where does Dylan’s DeLucia’s Thursday night shutout of Arkansas rank among greatest individual athletic performances in Ole Miss history?

Rick Cleveland

Good questions, both. Let’s take the question about DeLucia first. Keep in mind, my earliest sports memories go back to the late 1950s. Long-ago legends Bruiser Kinard, Chunkin’ Charlie Conerly and Donnie Kessinger — among others — likely did something to rival DeLucia’s heroics. I cannot speak to that.

In my memory, precious few individual efforts even rival that of DeLucia’s. I’ll give you three: 

1) Archie Manning’s remarkable 540-yard performance in the 1969 Alabama-Ole Miss game, the first nationally televised primetime (night) college football game. Alabama won the game 33-32, but Manning stole the show setting a total offense record that stood for decades. 

2) Gerald Glass’ 53-point effort in a 113-12 overtime basketball victory over LSU in 1989, made all the more special because native Mississippian Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (then Chris Jackson) scored 55 for LSU.

3) Future Major Leaguer Drew Pomeranz, in the 2009 Regional and Super Regional, pitched heroically three times in eight days, striking out 36 batters in 24 innings, throwing 384 pitches, while allowing just 14 hits and three runs.

Just my opinion: DeLucia’s four-hit shutout victory over Arkansas on short rest shoots to the top of the charts. That’s mainly because of the circumstances, including that this was the most important game in 129 years of Ole Miss baseball and the strong national championship implications on the College World Series stage. You know what happened: With the season and national championship hopes on the line, DeLucia never allowed a Razorback runner past second base and went to a three-ball count on only three batters. Ole Miss won 2-0.

I should point out that 25 years ago, a baseball effort would never have even entered into this conversation. A baseball performance, no matter how impressive, would not have been considered. College baseball was once a spring-time afterthought attended by sparse crowds with virtually no television coverage whatsoever. That DeLucia’s performance clearly belongs in this conversation speaks to the growth of college baseball and its relative importance on the Mississippi sports scene. Baseball, more than ever before, matters.

So back to the original question: Where does the Rebels making it to the championship series of the 2022 College World Series rank among achievements in Ole Miss sports history?

I asked a good friend, an avid Ole Miss fan of all sports, who is a couple years into his ninth decade on this planet. “Damned high,” celebrated journalist and inveterate Rebel fan Curtis Wilkie answered. “I think you might have to go back to 1959 for anything that would match it.”

Wilkie speaks of the 1959 LSU-Ole Miss football game on Halloween night and the rematch in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. Ole Miss lost the regular season game – and the national championship – 7-3 on Billy Cannon’s fabled punt return and then won the Sugar Bowl 21-0. 

Ole Miss has played in Sugar Bowls since, made it to an NCAA Sweet 16 in basketball, beaten Alabama in a couple times in recent years in high-profile college football games. Ole Miss has won a women’s golf national championship, and two individuals, Devin Britton in tennis and Braden Thornberry in golf, have won individual NCAA National Championships.

Again, making the 2022 national championship series very much belongs in the first sentence of this discussion of ultimate Ole Miss sports achievements because of the circumstances. Seven weeks ago, this Ole Miss team was going nowhere and many Ole Miss diehards were calling for a coaching change. Since then, the Rebels have won 18 of 24 games overall and eight of nine in this NCAA Tournament.

You could make the case that the LSU football games in the 1959 season – 63 years ago – were as meaningful. But just the fact that we need to go back that far speaks to the significance of what these current Ole Miss baseball Rebels have achieved.

Yes, and over the next two or three days, these baseball Rebels could put an exclamation point on the end of this discussion. With two more victories, there would be no doubt.

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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.