Published On: Sun, Jun 26th, 2022

Ole Miss smashes Oklahoma to win Game 1 of College World Series finals


OMAHA, Neb. — Ole Miss baseball has its foot on the gas.

The Rebels throttled Oklahoma on Saturday, winning Game 1 of the College World Series championship series 10-3. Ole Miss (41-23) is now one win away from its first national championship. Rebels coach Mike Bianco and his players will get their first chance to hoist the trophy Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) with freshman left-hander and budding ace Hunter Elliott on the mound.

Bianco knows what his players know. Sunday can be a program-defining day. There’s no shying away from that.

“I think sometimes you worry too much about being too calm,” Bianco said. “That was kind of the message today, is to go for it. You are here in the national championship series, and you deserve to be here, and it’s time to press the gas pedal and go for it, to be aggressive.”

The Rebels were the aggressors Saturday. The Tim Elko-led offense scored four runs on five hits in the first three innings. Starter Jack Dougherty opened with five perfect innings. Freshman reliever Mason Nichols inherited a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning of a 4-1 game and only gave up one run to the heart of the Sooners’ loaded lineup. Then, in the eighth inning, T.J. McCants, Calvin Harris and Justin Bench smacked home runs in consecutive at-bats to put the game away.

Even the things that didn’t work were aggressive. Before the back-to-back-to-back homers, Ole Miss recorded back-to-back outs at third base trying to bunt and steal for extra runs. Bianco kept right-hander Josh Mallitz, one of his top reliever options, in the game for the eighth and ninth innings with the score already put away.

The Rebels never let up. Now they’re on the precipice of history.

“We still have another game to win,” said Elko, who was 4-for-5 with a home run and three runs scored. “It’s obviously great to win the first one, but we still have one more to take home the whole thing. Will be rested up (Sunday), focused up and ready to win one more.”

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Getting to Elliott with a win in the tank is huge. Elliott has a 1.98 ERA over a six-start winning streak and a 0.96 ERA across three NCAA Tournament starts. Ole Miss hasn’t lost one of Elliott’s starts since April 30. Five of Elliott’s six opponents over that stretch were No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Sunday will be a big stage for Elliott as a freshman from Mississippi. But he’ll do well to learn from Nichols, a fellow Magnolia State freshman who harnessed the power of the moment. Nichols admitted he was nervous entering a three-run game to face Oklahoma slugger Peyton Graham, an All-American and projected first-round draft pick, with the bases loaded.

Ole Miss starter Jack Dougherty delivers during the first inning.

Bianco told Nichols to fill the zone with strikes. He told his freshman the first pitch would be a slider outside and they’d work from there. He paused, prayed and got the strikeout.

“God gets all the glory for that because I asked Him for some peace and some strength before I went out there,” Nichols said. “He gave me both.”

Dougherty hadn’t started a game since March. Nichols is a freshman. McCants was a defensive replacement taking his first at-bat of the game. Harris has more home runs in Omaha than he does the rest of the season.

It’s not just guys like Elko, Elliott and Dylan DeLucia stepping up. It’s the role players who are proving the moment isn’t too big.

“I think they realize that you have to win,” Bianco said. “To win you have to play really well to beat a really good team in the other dugout. You don’t get to this point not realizing that.”

Contact Nick Suss at nsuss@gannett.com and follow on Twitter @nicksuss.





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