By ERIC OLSON – AP Sports Writer
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The last team to enter the NCAA baseball tournament was the last team standing.
Mississippi scored twice on wild pitches in an eighth inning three-run, and the Rebels captured their first baseball national title, sweeping Oklahoma in the College World Series Finals with a 4-2 win. sunday.
The Rebels (42-23) became the eighth national champion since 2009 to emerge from the Southeastern Conference and the third in a row, and the trophy will stay in Magnolia State for another year. Mississippi State won last year.
“There’s so much to say about everything we’ve overcome this year, how much we’ve had to fight, how much we’ve had to pick ourselves up and never let ourselves down,” said team captain Tim Elko . “The story of our season is going to be told for years and years to come.”
Ole Miss benefited from a runner interference call that won Oklahoma (45-24) in the sixth inning. The Rebels also overcame a spectacular pitching performance from Cade Horton, who set a CWS Finals record with 13 strikeouts.
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Brandon Johnson hit the team in a 1-2-3 ninth inning to spark a celebration on the field and in the stands where the majority of the 25,972 were Rebels fans dressed in powder blue Ole Miss. Receiver Hayden Dunhurst ran to the mound to hug and then tackle Johnson after Sebastian Orduno swung and missed the final pitch.
It’s been an unlikely trip for the Rebels and 22nd-year coach Mike Bianco, who came under fire when his team was 22-17 overall and 7-14 in the SEC on May 1.
“I think they showed a lot of people that you can fall and stumble and fail, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure,” Bianco said. “If you keep working hard, you keep pushing and you keep believing, you can accomplish anything. This is not a poster or a tweet to get you motivated. We’ve all heard that. These guys have been through this this season.
Ole Miss beat North Carolina State for the final overall bid and had to hit the road for Regionals and Super Regionals. The Rebels finished the season with a 20-6 record, including 10-1 in the national tournament.
Their only CWS loss was 3-2 to Arkansas on Wednesday. The next day, Dylan DeLucia threw a four-hit shutout to beat the Razorbacks and send the Rebels to the Finals. DeLucia was named the CWS’ Most Outstanding Player after allowing one earned run, striking out 17 and walking none in 16 2/3 innings.
Ole Miss, who won the opener of the CWS Finals 10-3, lost 2-1 going into the eighth inning on Sunday. Trevin Michael relieved Horton with one out, and Jacob Gonzalez scored from the right side to drive in the tying run.
“We kind of knew we were going to start scoring eighth or ninth,” said Gonzalez, 3-for-23 in the CWS before scoring twice and homering on Sunday. “That’s how we are. We’re going to put the pressure on. We’re not going to knock and sit down. Fortunately, I had a hit and was finally able to help the team this week.
Michael (4-2) then uncorked wild pitches that brought Justin Bench for the go-ahead and another to bring Gonzalez. On the first, receiver Jimmy Crooks was crossed on a breaking ball. On the second, Michael’s serious tone went under Crooks’ glove.
“I wouldn’t want anyone behind the plate other than Jimmy Crooks or Trevin to shut the game down,” OU coach Skip Johnson said.
Ole Miss starter Hunter Elliott scattered three hits while allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings. Mason Nichols and John Gaddis (4-2) gave Johnson the game in ninth.
Horton allowed four hits and none in a stellar 107-pitch performance.
“We’ve been successful here and we’ve accomplished a lot this year,” said Horton, a first-round pick slated for next month in the Major League Baseball draft. “But we will be back. I know because this team laid the foundation for the future of Oklahoma baseball.
Oklahoma appeared to have taken a 1-0 lead at sixth base, but the run was called off when John Spikerman, who had a tight bunt, was called for runner interference for hindering Elko at first base while that he was trying to catch Elliott’s pitch.
Jackson Nicklaus had been hit by Elliott early in the inning and was third after a sacrifice and wild pitch. He came home on Spikerman’s bunt, but Bianco requested a video review when Spikerman was first called to safety.
Bianco said he rarely watches replays on the scoreboard, but did this time. He said he thought Spikerman was out of the way and came to the field to request the video review.
“The credit goes to the dash guy,” Bianco said.
Spikerman knocked off Elko’s glove as he crossed first, the ball ending up in foul territory. The call was overturned as Spikerman ruled he was inside the baseline as he crossed the sack, forcing Nicklaus back to third base.
Johnson asked if Bianco made his request within 30 seconds of the end of the game, as required by the rules. He did not challenge the final decision. He just didn’t like how it happened.
“If we disrupt the fabric of the game by bringing in computer referees,” he said, “I think I’ll just go fishing.”
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