OMAHA, Neb. – Of all the Ole Miss baseball teams, through all of Coach Mike Bianco’s 22 years, through all the ups and downs and heartbreaks and close losses and hardships and outright disappointments, This is the team to finally bring a trophy back to Oxford.
That Ole Miss baseball team won a national championship. The 2022 Rebels defeated Oklahoma 4-2 in comeback fashion on Sunday and won three runs in the eighth inning to take home the first NCAA-recognized men’s athletics championship in school history.
this teamwhich fell from No. 1 in the March polls to 7-14 in SEC play and is in danger of missing the May 1 Conference tournament.
this teamwho banked all their starting pitchers in April and had to rely on a junior college transfer and a freshman to salvage their season.
CELEBRATE ON:How Ole Miss fans celebrated the College World Series title
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this teamwho lost four straight series in April, lost clean-up hitter Kevin Graham for a month to a wrist injury, lost second Calvin Harris to an oblique injury when he hit .524, and Transferportal pitchers Jack Washburn and John Gaddis suffered an ankle injury and an appendectomy in April.
this teamthat was the last open bid selected for the NCAA tournament.
this team is the last team standing. champions of the world. The team that will bring back the trophy to Oxford that they so desperately want.
“There’s so much to say about how much we’ve overcome this year, how much we’ve had to fight through, how much we’ve had to lift each other up and never let one down too much,” said Senior Captain Tim Elko. “This story of our season will be told for years to come. This is the best Ole Miss baseball team in history and it feels so good and an honor to be a part of it.”
It is impossible to overstate the improbability of all this. Ole Miss wasn’t bad just two months ago. The rebels were so bad they made bad teams look good. Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi State took streaks from the Rebels for three straight weeks and then all missed the NCAA tournament.
Then, after May 1st, it clicked. The Rebels have won 18 of their last 22 games, outscoring their opponents 160-74. Ole Miss went 10-1 in 11 NCAA tournament games, hitting three shutouts and averaging 7.5 runs per game.
It all culminated in five wins at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, equaling the number of College World Series the Rebels had in their history prior to this trip.
“Life is tough and bad things happen to everyone,” Bianco said. “Good people, bad things happen. These guys worked really hard and I think they showed a lot of people that you can fall and you can trip and you can fail, but that doesn’t mean you’re failure. If you keep working hard, you keep pushing and you keep believing, as Tim said, that you can achieve anything.”
Closer Brandon Johnson recorded the last of Sunday’s crucial win. He knocked out the page at 14 places, then blacked out. The senior said he usually has a choreographed celebration for each parade. This time he had nothing. After the team went through everything, he felt nothing. No performance. no celebration Just pure, non-stop shock.
Then his teammates rushed out of the dugout and chugged his way. Senior Ben Van Cleve warned his teammates to prepare for pain. He warned them that they might have to endure three or four minutes of discomfort on the bottom of the stack because it wouldn’t move.
Graham’s feelings varied between shock and elation. For a moment he looked stunned. The other cried.
Dylan DeLucia, the tournament’s most outstanding player, was beaming from ear to ear. He greeted his family on the first baseline with twirling hugs and a promise to celebrate.
Senior Max Cioffi is one of the few players who has been with the team since 2018. He suffered a regional home loss in his freshman year as a nationally seeded player, a super-regional loss with a win before Omaha in his sophomore year, elimination of his junior season through COVID-19, surgery by Tommy John that gave him his senior season and all the ups and downs lows of 2022.
Through all of this, Cioffi knows this team is the one who won everything.
“There were just so many mistakes,” said Cioffi. “We were so close for so long. My goodness. But I’ll tell you what, it’s worth it. It’s definitely worth it.”
Contact Nick Suss at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @nicksuss.