OMAHA, Neb. — Ole Miss, one of the last four teams invited to the NCAA baseball tournament, is now one win away from being the last team standing.
Mississippi defeated Oklahoma 10-3 in the first contest of the best-of-three Men’s College World Series finals Saturday, powered to the victory by an unlikely arm: relief pitcher Jack Dougherty.
A sophomore out of Collierville, Tennessee, Dougherty was forced into service as a starter because the team’s two aces had been used up in Mississippi’s march to this championship series.
“Coach [Mike Bianco] grabbed me before the game and said, ‘Just be you,'” Dougherty said after the game. “‘Go out, attack with your fastball, get ahead in counts and just pitch like you pitch and you’ll be successful.'”
The righty responded with his longest outing of the season: five innings of perfect baseball before leaving the mound in the sixth with a 4-1 lead and the bases loaded with no outs. His relief came by way of freshman right-hander Mason Nichols, who struck out five of the seven batters he faced in two innings of work and surrendered only one run, charged to Dougherty.
“I thought that was really the baseball game there [in the sixth], to get off the field there with just a couple,” Bianco said.
A trio Ole Miss pitchers — Dougherty, Nichols and sophomore Josh Mallitz — enjoyed an early cushion, as their hitting teammates posted two runs in the top of the first and added one more each in the second and third innings. The last of those came off the bat of fifth-year senior and emerging Oxford, Mississippi, folk hero Tim Elko, who blasted his 24th homer of the season, the highlight of a 4-for-5 night at the plate, which was the first four-hit outing for any MCWS batter since 2009.
When teammates T.J. McCants, Calvin Harris and Justin Bench blasted back-to-back-to-back homers in the top of the eighth — the first team to do that since LSU in 1998 — the score was 8-2 and the game was essentially over.
Oklahoma squandered the opportunity of what looked like a huge on-paper mismatch, sending ace Jake Bennett to the mound with a week’s worth of rest after having not pitched since the Sooners’ MCWS opening game against Texas A&M on June 17.
Now, Ole Miss will have No. 2 starter Hunter Elliott and his perfect postseason record on the mound on five days’ rest Sunday afternoon with a chance to clinch the title. Should a Game 3 become necessary Monday, the Rebels could presumably have ace Dylan DeLucia available for at least some work after his gutsy Thursday afternoon complete-game shutout that pushed Ole Miss into the finals.
The Rebels are one win away from not only their first MCWS title but also the school’s second-ever NCAA-recognized national championship in any team sport. The women’s golf team won the university’s first title, only one year ago. The school does claim three national titles in football from 1958 to 1960, but none of those was honored by The Associated Press or coaches’ polls.
“We still have another game to win,” Elko said. “It’s obviously great to win the first one, but we still have one more to take home the whole thing. We’ll be rested up tomorrow, focused up and ready to win one more.”