Rebel road trip: Dozens trek from Vicksburg to Omaha to see Ole Miss win College World Series

Published 10:25 am Monday, June 27, 2022

In the wee hours of the morning Friday and Saturday, a stream of cars flowed out of Vicksburg and headed northwest on a once in a lifetime road trip.

Sporting blue and red, talking about what had been and could be, with Hotty Toddy and Gosh Almighty on the brain, they dropped what they were doing, filled up the gas tank and set off into the darkness with their destination and plans set.

Omaha, Nebraska. Charles Schwab Field. The College World Series. Seeing their beloved Ole Miss Rebels win a national championship.

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“We waited so long for this opportunity, how could we not be here?” said Vicksburg resident Phillip Doiron, who left with his friend Bill Fulcher at 2:30 a.m. Saturday and arrived in Omaha about 12 hours later. “We’ve barely been here 24 hours, but we can’t believe everything that’s happened in those 24 hours.”

Doiron and Fulcher were among several dozen Vicksburg residents who traveled to Omaha to watch Ole Miss play — and defeat — Oklahoma in the College World Series finals over the weekend.

Many of them had similar stories — a last-minute decision, an overnight drive, and memories that will last forever.

The College World Series begain on June 17, but many fans held off going until the Rebels clinched a spot in the best-of-three championship series that began Saturday night.

Ashton Hotard said she and her husband Pete decided to go on Thursday, after the Rebels beat Arkansas 2-0 to reach the finals.

“We thought it was once in a lifetime. It worked out with our work schedules and we said, ‘Let’s go,’” said Hotard, who owns Jubilee Therapy in Vicksburg. “I was watching it at work. I had to make sure they went before we made our arrangements.”

Austin Crabtree and David Blackledge just got in the car and drove at literally the last minute.

Blackledge is the executive director of the Miss Mississippi Competition, and Crabtree is on the production staff. The competition concluded at 10 p.m. Saturday, and within three hours they were on the road to Nebraska along with Blackledge’s wife Jan and daughter Lindsey.

Thanks to a couple of other family members already in Omaha, the group was able to snag standing room only tickets for Game 2 of the finals that started at 2 p.m. Sunday.

“David called me at 11:59 Saturday night. We had just finished the pageant and he said, ‘Let’s go to Omaha.’ I said, ‘Uhhhh … you know what, let’s go.’ So I threw some clothes in a bag, we hopped in the car, and we made the 12-hour trek,” Crabtree said. “We had just crowned Miss Mississippi. Just being able to drop everything and go on pure adrenaline is super awesome.”

More than 50,000 people attended the two games of the championship series and the crowd was, by all accounts, overwhelmingly comprised of Ole Miss fans.

It was a festive atmosphere that was part class reunion, part family reunion. Everywhere, Hotard said, were people she and her husband knew either from Vicksburg or from when she attended Ole Miss in the late 2000s.

“It was special because we got to see people we hadn’t seen since college. It wasn’t a lot of college kids. It was a lot of alumni,” Hotard said.

Doiron came with a large group from Vicksburg and estimated there were a couple dozen scattered around Omaha.

“We had a dozen and we kept running into people. There were maybe 20 or 30 people. I’ve seen that many. I bet there were more,” he said.

Ole Miss won Game 1 of the championship series on Saturday, 10-3, after hitting back-to-back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning. The homers gave Ole Miss an 8-2 lead and, within a few pitches, turned a nailbiter of a game into a party.

“The atmosphere was similar to a football game, it was so loud and rowdy,” Fulcher said.

Game 2 on Sunday was much more tense. It was scoreless until the sixth inning, and Oklahoma led 2-1 entering the bottom of the eighth. Ole Miss then scored three runs to take a 4-2 lead, which ended up as the final score.

For 20 years, Ole Miss always seemed just good enough to get its fans hopes up before crushing them. It lost six times in super regional series, including in 2019 and 2021. Its only previous trip to the CWS under head coach Mike Bianco, in 2014, ended in the semifinals.

Finally, on a hot, sunny Sunday, the weight was lifted.

“(Saturday’s) experience was just electrifying, and (Sunday) was a little more tense because we had gone down. We just knew that it was our day. It was so fun. It was Rebels everywhere,” Hotard said. “It was a relief, but it also felt like our time. Today, I was nervous, but my husband said there was a peace about it. It was our time. It was ready for us to do it.”

After making the 800-mile trip to Omaha for a moment they’d waited decades for, the Ole Miss fans soaked in the joy. They lingered in the stands at Charles Schwab Field for the postgame trophy celebration. They shared a rousing round of the “Hotty Toddy” chant with team captain Tim Elko in the concourse. They high-fived players on the way to the bus.

“We would have loved to have seen this on TV. But being here, in person, and watching … right now we’re looking at the players walk by on the sidewalk and everybody is high-fiving them as they go along,” Doiron said. “It’s just unreal. They’ve all got their national championship T-shirts on. I don’t think they’re going to be buying any food or drinks tonight.”

Come Monday morning, the bleary-eyed Ole Miss caravan will start making its way back home. Its members won’t be as tired from driving 12 hours as they will be from partying for nearly as long. The thoughts of the yearlong celebration ahead will surely help carry them through the fatigue.

“I’ll be 62 soon and that’s why I came. If it takes that long again, I won’t be here,” Fulcher said with a laugh. “We felt like we had to be here. It may be the only opportunity in our life to do it. It was worth the drive — and the drive we have to do tomorrow.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 139-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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