OMAHA, Neb. – Sometimes it’s just your night. Sometimes that night happens to happen on the biggest stage your sport has to offer…say, the opening verse of the men’s best-of-three College World Series finals.
Saturday night was definitely Ole Miss night. Now the challenge is to recapture the magic of the Mississippi River for another game.
“There’s still work to be done and we know it,” said Tim Elko, the team’s mustachioed first baseman, team captain, motivational speaker and a member of the College World Series statistical elite as of Saturday night. “But we’re also going to make sure we enjoy every part of that night because it was special and it always will be special.”
The Rebels defeated Oklahoma 10-3 in a game that remained tense into the late innings and then suddenly turned into a loss. Now a team invited to the last four of the NCAA 64-team baseball tournament is one win away from being the last team standing.
“I’ve been doing this for a while and I’ve never heard or felt anything like it did tonight in a college ballpark,” said Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, who has competed in the College World Series six times over more than three decades as a catcher , assistant coach and head coach.
“We have a great atmosphere [home stadium] Swayze Field, but this atmosphere tonight, it was like a football game. I think half of Mississippi showed up in Omaha today and they were hoping to see something special. The energy emanating from those stands told me they felt it.”
It’s a feeling that came over them as soon as they got into town and all Saturday, and it intensified when they got to Charles Schwab Field. As the gates opened and the powder-blue-clad worshipers poured into the stadium, they were presented with a giveaway by the ballpark’s title sponsor: a hand-waving towel dyed the company’s signature color, powder-blue. It was a coincidence. Maybe.
“Nah man, that’s no coincidence,” explained Tim Davis, a salesman from Memphis, Tennessee, as he began twirling his towel over his head. “This is destiny, my son!”
As the game began, the 25,813 in attendance, mostly dressed in the blue, braced themselves for Oklahoma’s high-profile offense to kick in early, as they so often do. Instead, it was Ole Miss who hit two runs in the first inning and one run each in the third and fourth. Everyone was expecting to see the gargantuan paper advantage for Oklahoma that ace Jake Bennett had on the mound after a week’s rest and unfolded in front of them. Instead, it was Ole Miss Reliever Jack Dougherty, making his first start since March, pitching five innings of perfect baseball and teaming with true freshman Mason Nichols and sophomore Josh Mallitz to not only win the game, but to help hit the reset button on the Rebels’ rotation with postseason ace Hunter Elliott is ready to go Sunday afternoon after five days off.
“Game after game is a sports cliché, I know,” said Elko. “But that’s how you do it.”
The fifth-grader went 4-for-5 to the plate, the first four-hit MCWS Finals game since 2009. Teammates TJ McCants, Calvin Harris and Justin Bench hit consecutive homers at the top of the eighth, the first team to do so since the LSU did in 1998, and the only one to do so at Charles Schwab Field since it opened and began hosting the series in 2011.
It was an impressive, unexpected, mind-blowing performance, underscored by the de facto home crowd and underscored by the fact that since the MCWS Finals switched to the best-of-three format in 2003, 11 out of 18 teams , who managed to win the title, got off to a 1-0 start.
But history doesn’t matter to these Sooners.
“I’m glad that happened…”
“We’re going to learn from our lesson,” said Oklahoma first baseman Blake Robertson, whose sophomore year flushed more than a little as he answered post-game questions about the loss and his 4-1 performance.
“We did that all season. We took care of Florida in Florida [during the NCAA Gainesville Regional]. Went to Virginia Tech with them and ran the business. I really don’t think a home audience is suitable for that [Ole Miss] does everything. I think we actually enjoy silencing the crowd.”
Both of those victories in enemy territory came in elimination games, and as the Sooners eat their breakfast before Game 2 on Sunday, they’ll no doubt be reminded of another significantly less depressing statistic from the MCWS Finals: each of the last three national champions has fought back from losing game 1 to win everything.
Besides, who knows how to get around the cars when they’re surrounded better than a program that literally owns a car, the Sooner Schooner?
“That’s the great thing about baseball. You can play 4v4, 5v5, and the next day you can play 0v4, 0v5, and that’s why you have to come back and keep playing the game and learn from the lessons you’ve learned.” said Oklahoma coach Skip Johnson, who has plenty of Omaha experience of his own after a decade as an assistant under Augie Garrido in Texas.
“We woke up this morning and we had to win two games. We will wake up [Sunday] Tomorrow and still have two games to win. It happens.”
Sometimes it really is just your night. Now let’s see who’s about to have their day.
https://www.espn.com/college-sports/baseball/cws/story/_/id/34149974/men-college-world-series-special-night-fuels-ole-miss-oklahoma-finals-opener Men’s College World Series – ‘Special’ night fuels Ole Miss over Oklahoma in finals opener