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Mike Lopresti | | June 19, 2022

Root, root, root for the road team: All four unseeded teams earn wins in first round of Men's College World Series

Auburn vs. Ole Miss: 2022 Men's College World Series highlights

OMAHA, Neb. — So Ole Miss scored in the top of the first inning of its Men's College World Series game against Auburn Saturday night.

Just like Oklahoma. And Notre Dame. And Arkansas.

Once in front, the Rebels would never be passed. There would be no lead change.

Just like Oklahoma. And Notre Dame. And Arkansas.

Ole Miss was unseeded for the NCAA tournament, but defeated a seeded opponent anyway,

Just like Oklahoma. And Notre Dame. And Arkansas.

We might have spotted a trend here. All eight teams have stood in the bright lights now in Omaha, and there has been little routine about this Men’s College World Series.

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Texas A&M, Texas, Stanford, Auburn — all seeded in the top 16 for the tournament — were thrashed by a combined score of 42-14. They never led. Not one inning. No. 2 Stanford is the highest seed in town and lost by 15 runs. Auburn, the team that scored 51 times in three regional games, managed one run and four hits against the Ole Miss staff that has turned into a pack of Justin Verlanders. Texas, a program with six national championships, was stifled by Notre Dame, a program with four World Series wins. Texas A&M is now 0-5 in this place.

The 21st century has never seen such a thing. This is the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1999 that not a single seeded team was 1-0 after the first round. Also the first time in 23 years all the first four games were settled by at least four runs.

Strange forces seem at work in Omaha. In that case, we might as well start with Ole Miss, maybe the strangest tale of them all.

The team that was once 7-14 in the SEC . . . the bubble bunch that was the last name called out for the NCAA tournament . . . suddenly can’t be stopped. Or even scored on much.

“We stuck together and just believed that it was going to turn around for us. And when it finally turned around, we just took it and ran with it,” pitcher Dylan DeLucia was saying Saturday night after he struck out 10 Auburn batters and gave up four hits and one run in 7.2 innings.

This is where running with it has taken them:

The Rebels are 6-0 in the postseason by a combined score of 51-12, including 20-1 from the super regional on.

Their pitchers have allowed one run in the past 29 innings. The bullpen hasn’t given up an earned run since May 21, nearly a month ago. In the past three games, the Ole Miss staff has struck out 34 and walked three. The secret? “I guess the answer,” coach Mike Bianco said, “is a lot of strikes.”

Ole Miss hasn’t trailed in 39 innings, going back to the regional. It must seem like light years since the Rebels sat waiting to hear if their name would be called. Now Ole Miss has turned into a tsunami.

“We knew we were good enough to make it. Yeah, our record didn’t say that,” DeLucia said of the shaky days.

“I think part of it is where they’ve come from,” Bianco said. “We were in a tough spot. Once we got in, I think the slate’s clean. What I mean by that is they were fighting uphill and trying to stay alive in the deep end for such a long time, that once they got in, now everybody’s even. And everybody’s 0-0, and they’ve got another opportunity.

“It’s not super surprising because we played so well at the beginning of the year. This wasn’t a team that came out of nowhere. This was a team that was ranked No. 1 at some point . . . and a team that kind of lost itself and were able to come back. I think once they got that new life in them, you can see the confidence in the way they’ve played.”

The Rebels, then, might be the poster team of the unpredictability of these proceedings. A 1-0 start is a fine way to win this tournament. Thirty-six of the past 40 national champions did it. Just look who is now 1-0.

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Ole Miss, the last team in the field.

Notre Dame, the program that had not been here in 20 years, and only once in the previous 64.

Oklahoma, in Omaha for the first time since 2010.

Arkansas, 4-8 in its last 12 games going into the NCAA tournament.

They all struck quickly the past two days, and staked their positions. “Whenever you come out of the corner in the boxing match and you can land the first blow, it’s really a good feeling,” Notre Dame coach Link Jarrett said.

The offenses have had their noisy moments. There have been 10 home runs in the first two days -- that makes 434 in the NCAA tournament, already an all-time record. All nine starters for Arkansas had at least two hits against Stanford, the biggest a three-run homer by Chris Lanzilli on his 24th birthday. “Once we got into postseason play, I just felt like the team, they didn’t want to fail,” coach Dave Van Horn said of the Razorbacks’ recent surge.

But pitching is what has truly driven the narrative so far. Arkansas’ Connor Noland was an efficiency Jedi Saturday, needing only 79 pitches to get deep into the eighth inning against Stanford. Hours later, DeLucia would retire the first 14 Auburn batters he faced, and afterward admit he'd be taking a few moments Saturday night to savor what he had just done on such a stage.

“Anybody who says (they wouldn’t), they’re just lying to you,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy it right now, but tomorrow, we’re moving on to Arkansas.”

Indeed, all eight teams now move on after such an unconventional first round.

Texas and Texas A&M will meet to renew a fervent state rivalry that on Sunday will mean survival. “It would be nice if it were in the winner’s bracket,” Texas coach David Pierce said. “But it’s not.”

Stanford has never left Omaha without a victory, not in 17 appearances. But the Cardinal will have to forget that shellacking by Arkansas – “Just one of those you’ve got to flush,” coach David Esquer said – and recover to play Auburn Monday.

“Logically, you feel like most every team out here has a chance,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson. That may have been the message after two days of the College World Series. Anything seemed possible.

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Division I
Baseball Championship
June 14 - 24, 2024
Charles Schwab Field Omaha | Omaha, NE

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