By Robert Wilson
Pound the zone.
Ole Miss junior right-hander Dylan DeLucia said that’s why the Rebels have the most efficient pitching staff in the country right now.
DeLucia threw a perfect game for the first 4 2/3 innings and allowed only four hits and one run with 10 strikeouts and no walks in 7 1/3 innings to lead Ole Miss to a 5-1 victory over SEC West rival Auburn in the first round of the College World Series Saturday night before 25,217 at Omaha, Neb.
Ole Miss improved to 38-23 and are the only team in the country to be undefeated in the postseason, winning three games in the regional, two in the super regional and now one in the CWS. The Rebels won their first game in the CWS for only the second time in school history, the other time was in 1956.
Ole Miss meets another SEC West rival Arkansas Monday at 6 p.m. on ESPN in the second-round game. Arkansas defeated No. 2 national seed Stanford 17-2 Saturday afternoon, the most runs scored at the CWS since 2008.
Ole Miss went 1-2 against Arkansas in its three games series April 29-30 and May 1 at Fayetteville during the regular season. The Rebels won Game 1 4-2, lost Game 2 6-3 when the Hogs scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth and lost Game 3 4-3.
Auburn meets Stanford Monday at 1 p.m. in an elimination game. Stanford has never lost its first two games in the CWS in 17 appearances.
This is how zoned in Ole Miss pitchers are in the postseason. When Auburn scored with two outs in the seventh inning, it ended a streak of 26 innings that Ole Miss had not allowed a run.
DeLucia didn’t allow a run until seventh, ending a streak of 11 2/3 innings without allowing a run. He pitched 5 2/3 innings without allowing a run against Southern Miss in the Super Regional in Hattiesburg. He also had 12 strikeouts in 6 innings in a 22-6 victory to win the Coral Gables Regional championship.
“We played very well and it always starts on the mound,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “Dylan was terrific. Not just down the stretch, but probably since we injected him into the rotation. He was terrific against what we consider a really good Auburn offense. He was able to do just about anything. You could tell they had a tough time figuring him out. Dylan mixed his pitches so well. His fastball was moving in and out. He had a ton of sliders for punchouts. The slider can be really nasty. He can throw a really good change-up, not many lefties in the lineup, so I think we threw maybe one or two changeups today. But the fastball can be so dominant. When he’s ahead in the count like that, you can see that they they’re not able to barrel up the fastball. And when you don’t do that, then it’s tough to get to the breaking ball. He commands it and it makes them uncomfortable.”
“Absolutely, the difference in the ballgame was Dylan,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. “He had a slider beneath us and a fastball above us. He didn’t trick us too much. We could not evaluate the strike zone with him on the mound. He shortened the game for their bullpen and get to the finish line.”
Auburn had three consecutive hits to open the seventh inning and score its first run, Bianco made a visit to DeLucia.
“I wanted check him emotionally,” Bianco said. “He’s as tough as heck, but he can be emotional. I just wanted to make sure to calm him down a little bit and get him back into the strike zone. His stuff was good, his pitch count was in the 80s and I didn’t see a reason for him to come out with that lead. I just wanted to check his emotions and make good pitches. He did and that’s why he’s so good. The good ones make pitches and get off the field.”
“I didn’t want to come out,” DeLucia said. “Coach has complete confidence in me. He just said, ‘Listen, throw strikes and let’s get out of this without giving up a run.’ That was the point.”
And that’s what DeLucia did, getting three consecutive outs to keep Ole Miss with a 5-1 lead.
Ole Miss came into the CWS leading the nation in hits allowed per nine innings (5.60), shutouts (2), strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.58), strikeouts per nine innings (13.4) and WHIP (0.89) and ranks second in ERA (2.00) in the NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore right-hander Josh Mallitz replaced DeLucia and pitched a perfect 1 1/3 innings, striking out the side in the ninth inning. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last seven appearances, a span of 15 2/3 innings. Ole Miss’ bullpen hasn’t allowed an earned run since May 21, a span of 18 2/3 innings.
Ole Miss sophomore designated hitter Kemp Alderman’s two out, two run single gave the Rebels a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Senior left fielder Kevin Graham hit a solo home run in the third inning to give Ole Miss 100 home runs for the season, adding to the school record total. Graham had three hits, two runs and one RBI. Alderman and sophomore right fielder Calvin Harris had two hits each for Ole Miss hits, which had 11 hits.
“It’s just sticking to your approach. But that’s something we’ve emphasized since I got here, is getting that big two-out hit,” Graham said. “With two outs, even with nobody on, there’s a lot of inning left. Just keep grinding out at-bats and winning pitches. Those two-out runs can be huge. They can be back breakers.”
Ole Miss’ scheduled starter for Monday’s game against Arkansas is freshman All-American left-hander Hunter Elliott, who comes in with a 4-3 record and a 2.82 earned run average, the fourth lowest in the country among freshmen. He allowed only three hits, no runs with 10 strikeouts and no walks in 7 1/3 innings in the win over Southern Miss to send Ole Miss to the CWS. He was the starter in Game 2 at Arkansas and allowed 4 hits and 3 runs with only 1 walk and 8 strikeouts in 6 innings and didn’t get a decision.