Tied for last place in the Southeastern Conference standings in early May, the Ole Miss Rebels hardly seemed worthy of the NCAA tournament, much less the championship round of the College World Series.
Ole Miss players and coaches weren’t listening to their critics then, and they certainly aren’t paying too much attention to them now.
The Rebels are headed for the CWS title round after a 2-0 victory Thursday against the Arkansas Razorbacks.
They’ll meet the Oklahoma Sooners in a best-of-three series for the national title starting Saturday in Omaha, Neb.
In a winner-take-all, CWS semifinal for a chance to play in title series, Dylan DeLucia pitched a nine-inning gem, blanking the Razorbacks on four hits.
DeLucia struck out seven and walked none.
Trailing by two runs, the Razorbacks had a chance to do some damage in the bottom of the seventh but couldn’t score.
Robert Moore reached base with a two-out, infield single. San Antonio’s Jalen Battles kept it going when he hit a ball toward the middle that was misplayed by Ole Miss shortstop Jacob Gonzalez.
At that point, Moore was at second base, and Battles was standing on first on a play that was scored as an error on Gonzalez.
Brady Slavens, who hit a long home run in Arkansas’ 3-2 victory over Ole Miss on Wednesday afternoon, stepped to the plate. But he grounded out to second base to end the inning and the threat.
Ole Miss took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on Kevin Graham’s RBI double. The Rebels made it 2-0 in the seventh on Calvin Harris’ run-scoring single.
While DeLucia (8-2) earned the victory, Arkansas ace Connor Noland (8-6) took the loss.
Noland worked eight innings. He yieded two runs, both earned, on seven hits. Noland was sharp with his control, walking none while fanning seven.
CWS championship round (Oklahoma vs. Ole Miss, best of three)
Saturday — 6 p.m.
Sunday — 2 p.m.
Monday — 6 p.m. (if necessary)
Ole Miss 40-23
In early May, Ole Miss was 7-14 in the SEC and was in danger of missing the conference’s postseason tournament. From there, the team started to click and won eight of 11 games. It was good enough for a spot in the NCAA tournament as the last at-large team selected.
Once they made the NCAA postseason, the Rebels got hot. They clicked off wins against Arizona and Miami and then Arizona again to win the Coral Gables regional. On the road again in the Super Regionals, they won two straight — both by shutout — at Southern Miss, the Conference USA champion, in Hattiesburg.
In all, they had strung together five straight wins leading into the CWS.
Ole Miss continued to play well in Omaha. DeLucia got the victory in a 5-1 victory over Auburn. Freshman left-handed pitcher Hunter Elliott followed by leading the Rebels in an 13-5 victory over Arkansas. In the semifinals, the Rebels met the Razorbacks again. Arkansas won the first game, 3-2, but Ole Miss responded with DeLucia going the distance in the 2-0 shutout.
Ole Miss has two Texans on its roster. One is pitcher John Gaddis, from Corpus Christi’s Calallen High School. The other is infielder Peyton Chatagnier from Cy-Fair High School in the Houston area.