OMAHA, Neb. — When Dylan DeLucia woke up Thursday morning in the Ole Miss team hotel, the first thing he did was shake his right arm, it being only five days since his last start.
"I thought . . . feels pretty good today,” he said.
How could he have ever dreamed that pretty good would soon lead to the day he became an Ole Miss baseball folk hero? Not until 45 minutes after the masterpiece that will forever be attached to his name — a 2-0 win over Arkansas that sent the Rebels to the Men’s College World Series Finals — did he begin to comprehend.
“I think it’ll hit me tomorrow,” he said. “I’m just kind of enjoying the moment right now but tomorrow I’m going to go like, I did that. I did that for the team."
That is going to be remembered a good long while in Omaha.
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Or as Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said with the first two words in his post-game press conference: "Just wow.”
His Rebels have not run out of magic, not run out of karma, not run out of the confidence that this is their time. And now the only thing in the world that can stop them is the Oklahoma Sooners. But it is not just that the last team invited into the NCAA Tournament is now where the program has never been before — the MCWS Finals.
Dylan DeLucia threw 113 pitches at the Arkansas hitters Thursday afternoon. Nearly all of them went where he wanted, and few of them were hit vary far. When he was done — in 2 hours and 6 minutes, which in college baseball is like pushing the fast forward button — the Razorbacks had four hits and no runs. Seven strikeouts, and no walks. Nine times, Arkansas’ leadoff batters came to the plate to start an inning. Nine times, they were retired and went back to the dugout. The Razorbacks lineup that had produced 36 runs and 53 hits in its first four games in Omaha managed but five baserunners. Only two of them made it as far as second, and none to third.
“He didn’t give us a chance,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn would say later.
“Legendary performance,” Bianco would offer.
“I don’t even have the words for it right now,” DeLucia would say. “This moment was a big moment for me. I loved every second of it.
“Just attacked them, at the end of the day.”
Oh, is that all it was?
There was more in making this day unforgettable, of course. Not just DeLucia, but the opponent he had to beat. This was a pitchers’ duel for the ages: DeLucia vs. Arkansas ace Connor Noland; eyeball-to-eyeball, right arm-to-right arm. Neither giving a millimeter, neither blinking.
Noland blew through eight innings, allowing seven hits and two runs. In one stretch, he faced 20 Ole Miss batters and threw only 19 balls. It's not often a man needs 84 pitches in eight innings, strikes out seven, walks none, gets utterly brilliant defense played behind him... and loses.
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Noland had not given up much. Just two runs. “Apparently all we needed today,” DeLucia said. Yeah, well, he had a little something to do with that. While Noland was throwing all those strikes and allowing only the occasional hit, DeLucia was retiring 18 of 19 Arkansas batters at one stretch.
“I knew I was going to have to compete and put up as many zeroes as I could, because I knew Noland was such a good pitcher,” DeLucia said. “I knew he was going to put up as many zeroes as I can, and I just had to go out there and outbeat him.”
In the half-innings the Razorbacks were at bat, Noland spent much of the time in the tunnel resting, understanding the no-margin-for-error situation he was in. “I could hear the crowd going crazy,” he said of the din from Ole Miss fans roaring for another DeLucia strikeout. “There was added pressure, but I already knew that coming into the game.”
It was High Noon at Charles Schwab Field, something every baseball person could admire. Even the losing coach.
“One of the best pitchers’ duels I’ve seen up here,” said Van Horn, who has been around a lot of Omaha blocks. “Both pitchers, they gave it everything they had... throwing strike after strike.
“I just like good baseball, and that was a good baseball game.”
He would have loved to have won it, but this seems to be Ole Miss’ month. The Rebels had taken a punch in the gut the night before against Arkansas, unable to convert on bases loaded with nobody out in the ninth. That could have rattled a team that was never expected to take June by such a storm.
“Nobody said it was going to be easy, right? “ was Bianco’s message to the rebels Thursday morning. “It’s not supposed to be easy. You’ve got to be tough enough to handle it.”
But all seemed well for Ole Miss once DeLucia started pitching. He went 7.2 innings five days earlier against Auburn and gave up a run, four hits, 10 strikeouts and no walks. That puts his 2022 MCWS line at 16.2 innings, one run, eight hits, 17 strikeouts and no walks. Songs are written about such performances.
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No wonder Bianco resisted any urge to go to the bullpen Thursday, even as the pitch count grew and the 2-0 lead looked a tad fragile.
“He was too good,” he said of his pitcher. “He just didn’t look like he was taxing himself. He didn’t look like he was running counts. He just looked like he was in total control.”
And DeLucia was of no mind to come out. “I just looked up and saw all those zeroes going into the eighth and I was like, it’s my time to finally finish this game.”
It was only the second complete game of his career. The SEC comes to Omaha in waves, but this was the first MCWS shutout thrown by a pitcher from that league in 29 years.
Special stuff. But what it meant most was an open door to the Finals, where Ole Miss has so longed to be.
“We’ve always believed at the end of the day that we were supposed to be here, and we’re finally here,” DeLucia aid.
“One of the challenges we talked about is to not just come here, but to win,” Bianco said. “This isn’t a bowl where years from now, people know if you went to a bowl, but they don’t know if you won or lost. You went to the Gator Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, whatever. This is a tournament where it’s like basketball, you’re supposed to win and move on.”
The Rebels don’t plan on stopping. They have lost one postseason game, and the momentum going from tournament bubble team to national finalist is starting to have a locomotive feel to it. The Sooners have to deal with that now, starting Saturday.
“Oklahoma is going to be rested and have all their arms loaded and ready to go,” Van Horn said. “But the way Ole Miss has been playing down the stretch, it might not matter.”
DeLucia will need some rest after Thursday. Legend-building takes a lot of work. “I already told Coach I’m available whenever,” he said.
As his storybook moment grew pitch by pitch Thursday, so probably did Oklahoma’s relief that Ole Miss had lost Wednesday’s game. Had the Rebels won, the Sooners would have been looking down the business end of Dylan DeLucia in game 1 of the Finals.