Ole Miss’ bats were as hot as the sizzling artificial turf at Southern Miss’ Pete Taylor Park/Hill Denson Field Saturday afternoon.
Ole Miss banged out 10 hits – including four doubles – and defeated No. 11 national seed Southern Miss 10-0 to win Game 1 of the best of three series in the Super Regional before 5,474 in Hattiesburg, the fifth largest crowd in school history.
Ole Miss, 36-22, and Southern Miss, 47-18, are scheduled to play Game 2 Sunday at 3 p.m. on ESPNU in Hattiesburg. Ole Miss freshman left-hander and freshman All-American Hunter Elliott (3-3, 3.17 earned run average) and Southern Miss sophomore right-hander, first-team All-American and Conference USA Pitcher of the Year Tanner Hall (9-2, 2.60 ERA) are the probable starting pitchers. Hall ranks third in the nation in strikeout to walk ratio (140 strikeouts to 13 walks).
The Rebels are one win away from its first College World Series appearance since 2014 and the second CWS appearance in Coach Mike Bianco’s 22-year career in Oxford.
The Golden Eagles must win two consecutive games to advance to their first CWS appearance since 2009.
This is the first time Southern Miss has hosted a Super Regional. In its only other Super Regional, the Eagles defeated Florida State in Tallahassee to make the CWS in 2009.
Ole Miss is playing in its third consecutive Super Regional and eighth in school history. The Rebels lost to Arizona in three games in last year’s Super Regional in Tuscon.
The game was played in sizzling temperatures, the high was 93, the heat index was about 100 and the temperature on the artificial turf was about 120.
And Ole Miss produced some heat of its own.
Eight of Ole Miss’ nine players in the lineup had at least one hit, led by senior first baseman and captain Tim Elko, who had two hits and three runs batted in. Elko continued his torrid hitting from the regional where he hit three home runs with six RBIs in the Game 3 against Arizona and was named regional MVP. Sophomore right fielder and No. 8 hitter Calvin Harris also had two hits. Senior centerfielder Justin Bench and sophomore shortstop Jacob Gonzalez scored two runs each.
Senior third baseman and No. 9 hitter Garrett Wood, who was making only his second start of the season, got on base four times (a single and three walks). Wood was playing due to a thumb injury to outfielder TJ McCants and regular baseman Bench was moved to centerfield.
“Garrett is a guy that’s maybe the favorite teammate in the dugout, brings a lot of energy,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “He doesn’t play a lot, buthe really lifts spirits and pushes guys in practice and always has a smile on his face and brings a ton of energy. You look and it’s all hands-on deck, here we are in a regional and McCants gets hurt and we throw him out there. A guy that’s usually thought of as a defensive replacement has put a ton of really good at bats together over the last few games. I’m really happy for him. Good things happen to good people and certainly you’re seeing it in that case.”
Ole Miss scored seven runs on five hits and sent 11 batters to the plate to take a 10-0 lead in the sixth inning.
Meanwhile, Southern Miss’ pitching staff – ranked No. 2 in the country in lowest walks per nine innings – had eight walks and hit two batters to help Ole Miss. Southern Miss’ starting pitcher Hurston Waldrep had 12 strikeouts in five innings, but had four walks, including two walks to start the third inning, which led to the first two Ole Miss runs.
“(Assistant coach and hitting coach) Mike Clement did a terrific job of preparing our guys,” Bianco said. “You see why Waldrep is thought of so highly and why he is going to be a big leaguer. He was terrific. We were fortunate. We made him work early.”
“Ole Miss played a much better game than we did, all the way around,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “We just didn’t do enough in any phase of the game today to compete with a good team like they are, especially with the roll they’ve been on. We knew trying to navigate through their hitters was going to be just like LSU. They’re tough outs in there, and certainly they proved that today. But I think the bottom line is the first four innings, we had opportunities to get momentum and punch back when they were up 3-0 and at least score one run and get back on the board. When you miss on opportunities to get momentum, you actually give momentum, and I felt like that’s exactly what happened.”
Southern Miss came within a few feet of taking a 4-3 lead when Reece Ewing hit an apparent grand slam home run with two outs and strikeouts in the fifth inning, but it was ruled a foul ball and it curled just right of the right field foul pole. Ewing struck out on the next pitch.
“It would’ve been nice to get the home run, but a foul ball is a foul ball, and I knew it was foul,” Berry said. “I could see it going on the other side of the foul pole but of course I’m going to challenge that. It ended up not costing me a challenge. The crew chief, that was his challenge on it, and they got the call right. Certainly, that would’ve been a big moment for us, it would’ve been 4-3 if it would have stayed fair. But a foul ball is a foul ball. We were going to have to get a two-out hit or something there anyway in that situation.”
“DeLucia did what the great ones do. He made a pitch to get off the field,” Bianco said. “There was no bigger pitch than that one in the game.”
Ole Miss junior right-hander Dylan DeLucia and sophomore right-hander Jack Dougherty combined for a four-hit shutout. DeLucia scattered four hits and had nine strikeouts and two walks in 5 2/3 innings. Dougherty didn’t allow a hit in 3 1/3 innings. DeLucia got the pitching win and improved to 6-2 and Dougherty got his second save.
“DeLucia has saved the season for us,” Bianco said. “He became our Friday night starter midway through the season and got a lot of wins for us to open the weekend like he did today.
“Dougherty is so good because he can really fill up the strike zone. It’s big when you get through the first game with just two guys. I thought he made some big pitches and was terrific today.”
Southern Miss is back like it was last week when the Golden Eagles lost to LSU and had to win three games to win the Regional. Southern Miss eliminated Kennesaw State in 10 innings and then defeated LSU twice to win the Hattiesburg Regional.
“There is a sense of urgency,” Berry said. “Ole Miss knows all they have to do is win one game to advance to Omaha. Our backs are against the wall. It is a must win now. We either win Sunday or go home. We have the pitching to win this thing. You don’t win 47 games to get where we are and not believe we can win it. We’ve had some experiences this season against UAB and Old Dominion where they had to win to keep from getting swept. Those experiences coupled with last week in the regional should help us move forward to come out Sunday and extend this thing to Monday.”