National champs! Ole Miss beats Oklahoma to win College World Series

Published 5:36 pm Sunday, June 26, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) —The last team in. The last team standing.

Ole Miss scored twice on wild pitches in a three-run eighth inning and won its first baseball national championship, sweeping Oklahoma in the College World Series finals with a 4-2 victory Sunday.

The Rebels (42-23) became the eighth national champion since 2009 to come out of the Southeastern Conference, and the trophy will stay in the Magnolia State for a second straight year. Mississippi State won last year.

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“There is so much to be said for how much we overcame this year, how much we had to fight through, how much we had to pick each other up and never let ourselves get down,” team captain Tim Elko said. “The story of our season is going to be told for years and years to come.”

Ole Miss was the last at-large team selected to the NCAA Tournament, and was seven games below .500 in the SEC on May 1. The Rebels then won 18 of their last 22 games, including a scorching 10-1 record in the NCAA Tournament, to end years of postseason frustration for the program and head coach Mike Bianco.

Ole Miss had been to eight super regionals in Bianco’s 22 seasons in Oxford, but this was only the second trip to the College World Series. Finally, they broke through with a magical and memorable run capped by a breathtaking comeback in Game 2 of the best-of-three championship series against Oklahoma (45-24).

The national title is the first for an Ole Miss men’s team and the second for the school. The women’s golf team won the NCAA championship in 2021.

“I think they’ve showed a lot of people that you can fall down, you can stumble and you can fail, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure,” Bianco said. “If you continue to work hard, you continue to push and you continue to believe, you can accomplish anything. That’s not some poster or some tweet to motivate you. We’ve all heard that. These guys have lived that this season.”

Ole Miss benefited from a runner-interference call that took a run away from Oklahoma (45-24) in the sixth inning. The Rebels also overcame a spectacular pitching performance by Cade Horton, who set a CWS finals record with 13 strikeouts, and a 2-1 deficit in the bottom of the eighth inning. Horton allowed four hits and walked none during a sterling 107-pitch performance.

Trevin Michael relieved Horton with one out in the eighth, following a single by T.J. McCants. Michael (4-2) melted down, though. He gave up a singles to Justin Bench and Jacob Gonzalez to bring in the tying run, then uncorked two wild pitches that brought two more runs home for a 4-2 Ole Miss lead.

“Kind of knew we were going to start the scoring in the eighth or ninth,” said Gonzalez, who was 3-for-23 in the CWS before singling twice and homering Sunday. “That’s how we are. We’re going to put the pressure on. We’re not going to strike out and sit down. Luckily, I got a hit and I finally got to help the team out this week.”

Brandon Johnson struck out the side in a 1-2-3 ninth inning, with catcher Hayden Dunhurst running to the mound to embrace and then tackle Johnson after Sebastian Orduno swung and missed on the final pitch.

Hunter Elliott scattered three hits while allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings. Mason Nichols and John Gaddis (4-2) got the game to Johnson in the ninth.

Oklahoma appeared to have taken a 1-0 lead in the sixth but had the run taken down when John Spikerman, who put down a squeeze bunt, was called for runner’s interference for impeding first baseman Tim Elko as he tried to catch Elliott’s throw.

Jackson Nicklaus had been hit by Elliott leading off the inning and was on third after a sacrifice and wild pitch. He came home on Spikerman’s bunt, but Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco asked for a video review when Spikerman was called safe at first.

Spikerman knocked off Elko’s glove as he ran through first, with the ball ending up in foul territory. The call was overturned, with Spikerman ruled to have been inside the base line as he ran through the bag, requiring Nicklaus to return to third base.

Bianco said he rarely looks at replays on the scoreboard, but did this time. He said he thought Spikerman was out of the running lane and came onto the field to request the video review.

“Credit goes to the scoreboard guy,” Bianco said.

Johnson questioned whether Bianco made his request within 30 seconds after the play ended, as required by the rules. He didn’t dispute the final ruling. He just didn’t like how it came about.

“If we mess with the fabric of the game by getting computer umpires,” he said, “I think I’ll just go fishing.”