Courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

By Robert Wilson

Two teams – Ole Miss and Oklahoma – came into the national championship baseball series riding a serious wave of positive momentum.

Only one kept it up Saturday night in Game 1.

Ole Miss banged out 16 hits – the most in a College World Series game since 2008 – and pitchers Jack Doughtery, Mason Nichols and Josh Mallitz scattered four hits and had a combined 15 strikeouts in a 10-3 victory over Oklahoma before 25,813 fans at Charles Schwab Stadium.

Ole Miss improved to 41-23 and is one win away from its first national baseball championship in school history. The Rebels continued the momentum and has won nine of its 10 games in the NCAA Tournament and has won 17 of its last 21 games.

Meanwhile, Big 12 Tournament champion Oklahoma dropped to 45-23 and slowed down its momentum after winning eight of 10 games in the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners, which had not trailed in this College World Series, had won 18 of their last 23 games. Oklahoma is two wins away from winning its third national baseball title in school history, winning in 1951 and 1994.

Ole Miss and Oklahoma play Game 2 Sunday at 2 p.m. on ESPN. Game 3, if necessary, is scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m. The team that has lost the first game of the best of three national championship series has come back to win two and win the title for the last three years and five of the last six years.

If Ole Miss can win one of the next two games, the state of Mississippi can claim the national title for the second straight year after Mississippi State won it last season. The last state to have two different teams to win a CWS title in back to back years was in 2002 and 2003 when Texas and Rice, located in Houston, won titles.

Courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

Ole Miss scored two runs in the first and one run each in the second and third to take a 4-0 lead. Meanwhile, Dougherty, a sophomore right-hander Dougherty who came in with a 3-3 record and a 5.08 earned run average this season, threw a perfect game for the first five innings and threw first pitch strikes on 10 of those 15 batters. Doughtery, though, came into the game riding some major momentum with a streak of 12 scoreless innings. Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said on the radio pregame show that he and his staff chose Doughtery to start Game 1 because “I knew Jack could fill up the strike zone.” And he did.

It was Dougherty’s first start in about three months.

“Jack had a tremendous day,” Bianco said. “He had super command of his fastball and his slider. He lived ahead in the count. Oklahoma is a patient team and gets a lot of walks. We felt like Jack would be the best pitcher who was available. He delivered strikes and landed his slider early.”

“Coach B told me, ‘Just to be you,’” Dougherty said. “He said to attack with the fastball, get ahead in the count and you will be successful.” 

Dougherty ran into trouble in the sixth inning as Oklahoma’s Jackson Nicklaus broke up Dougherty’s perfect game with a leadoff single to centerfield, Sebastian Orduno singled and Kendall Pettis reached on a bunt and Nicklaus scored on a throwing error to close the gap to 4-1. Freshman right-hander Mason Nichols, who entered the game with a scoreless streak of 6 2/3 innings, replaced Doughtery with the bases loaded and no outs and got back-to-back strikeouts, then walked in a runner before getting the third out as Oklahoma closed the lead to 4-2. Nichols struck out the side in the seventh.

“He comes in with the bases loaded and no outs and facing one of the best hitters in the country (Peyton Graham),” Bianco said. “He came and got those two big strikeouts and got off the field with only one run.”

“God gets all the glory for that because I asked Him for some peace and strength before I went out there and He gave me both,” Nichols said. “The coaches have trusted me and given me the opportunity to pitch in some big moments and big parks like Trustmark Park and Swayze Field. I had butterflies, but I focused on doing my job and got it done.”

Then, Ole Miss’ bats got hot again and with two outs, sophomore pinch hitter TJ McCants, sophomore right fielder Calvin Harris and leadoff hitter and senior centerfielder Justin Bench hit consecutive home runs. It was the first time a team had hit three consecutive home runs since LSU did it in 1998 in the CWS game.

Mallitz, a sophomore right-hander, pitched the final two innings.

This shows how dominant Ole Miss pitchers were. Oklahoma’s hottest hitters, shortstop Peyton Graham and right fielder Tanner Tredaway, both came into Game 1 with 17-game hitting streak. They went a combined 0-for-7 with three strikeouts Saturday night.

Also, Oklahoma came into the game with 145 stolen bases, fourth best in the country, but didn’t steal a base against the Rebels and catcher Hayden Dunhurst. 

Ole Miss senior first baseman and captain Tim Elko had four hits, including a third inning home run, adding to his single season school record total of 24. He now has 46 career home runs, two short of Kyle Gordon’s school record of 48 from 1983-87. Elko also scored three runs and had one run batted in.

Junior second baseman Peyton Chatagnier had three hits and sophomore designated hitter Kemp Alderman, Bench and Harris had two hits each.

“Ole Miss took the momentum early in the game and credit to them,” Oklahoma coach Skip Johnson said.

Now, Ole Miss will try to continue the momentum in Game 2. The scheduled starters are Ole Miss freshman left-hander Hunter Elliott (5-3, 2.70 ERA) and Oklahoma redshirt freshman right-hander Cade Horton (5-2, 5.24 ERA). Elliott has been superb in his last several appearances. He allowed six hits and one earned run and had eight strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings in a 13-5 victory over Arkansas in the second round of the CWS Monday night. Elliott also allowed three hits and one runs and had 10 strikeouts in a 5-0 victory over Southern Miss in the second Super Regional game in Hattiesburg. 

Horton, from Norman, Okla., originally committed to Ole Miss, but then signed with Oklahoma. He allowed six hits, two runs and had 11 strikeouts and only one walk in 6 innings in a 6-2 win over Notre Dame Sunday in the second round of the CWS. Horton has continued to improve after recovering from Tommy John surgery.