College World Series Final Preview: Oklahoma vs. Ole Miss

College World Series Final Preview: Oklahoma vs. Ole Miss

by June 24, 2022 1 comment

After a hectic week of the College World Series, the final two teams are now left standing to decide the rightful champion. Oklahoma went undefeated in the round to get to the final, beating Texas A&M twice and Notre Dame in between those games. They are playing for their third national title and first since 1994. They look to become the first-ever school to win baseball and softball national championships in the same year. The softball team won their second straight Women’s College World Series final in early June. Ole Miss needed the winner-take-all game to take out Arkansas, after beating Auburn in the opener. It is their first final appearance in their history.

Both these teams got hot at just the right time, as neither looked championship-caliber not too long ago. Ole Miss entered the season as a top-ranked team, but in-season struggles and injuries caused a fall-off. They started the NCAA Tournament 7-0 before the loss to Arkansas. Dylan DeLucia was the shutdown ace the Rebels needed in the win-or-go-home scenario. The right-hander hurled a complete-game shutout while striking out seven en route to a 2-0 Ole Miss win.

Oklahoma was just 18-12 in mid-April after losing their first two Big 12 series. They then went on to win 27 of their next 37 games. The Sooners will be well-rested after punching their ticket to the final on Wednesday afternoon. Redshirt sophomore David Sandlin struck out 12 in the clinching game to lead Oklahoma to victory.

The College World Series final is a best-of-three beginning on Saturday. Let’s take a look at this series and the biggest keys for both teams.

Schedule

Game 1: Saturday, June 25, at 7 p.m. ET

Game 2: Sunday, June 26, at 3 p.m. ET

Game 3: (if necessary): Monday, June 27, at 7 p.m. ET

Three Keys to Victory for Ole Miss

The Legend of Elko

After seeing his fair share of heartbreak in his first three seasons, Tim Elko returned for his senior season. That came after he tore his ACL last season but still smacked a grand slam in the 2021 regionals. Now with a completely healthy knee, Elko has been otherworldly for the Rebels this season. In a year that has been light on the pitching side, Elko has been the tournament’s unstoppable mustached legend. In the NCAA Tournament, he has gone 12-for-34 (.353) while mashing four homers – three in one game – with 13 RBI and 11 runs scored. The Ole Miss offense runs through him and he will have to keep rolling for them to take home the title. On the season as a whole, Elko is slashing .294/.406/.636 with 23 homers, 74 RBI, and 60 runs scored.

Pitching Holds Up

While DeLucia provided the spark for Ole Miss on Thursday, he was pitching on short rest and will likely only be available in short outings in the finals. That means the rest of the pitching staff, most notably Derek Diamond, will have to step up. While the right-hander has a perfect baseball name, he has struggled on the diamond of late. His last time out against Arizona in the regionals, he surrendered five earned runs on six hits in just 3 2/3 innings. Diamond has given up four or more runs in six of his last seven starts and will need to improve.

Outside of that though, the rest of the staff led by pitching coach Carl Lafferty has been strong. Freshman Hunter Elliot has been the second in command to DeLucia in the rotation, as they have both been nearly unhittable. They both started out in the bullpen, with Elliot recording a 2.70 ERA, .206 batting average against, and 96 strikeouts over 73 1/3 innings in 19 appearances – 11 starts. Sophomore right-hander Josh Mallitz has been terrific for the bullpen to provide a spark. He has a recorded a 1.24 ERA, .165 average against, and 44 strikeouts in 29 innings this season. So far in the postseason, Mallitz has given up just one hit while striking out nine.

Offense Clicks

Outside of Elko, senior Justin Bench and sophomore Jacob Gonzalez have been two of the key bats for the Rebels. Bench is hitting .316/.411/.429 with three homers, 40 RBI, and 60 runs scored. Gonzalez is hitting .269/.403/.551, 17 homers, 50 RBI, and 65 runs scored. Senior Kevin Graham has also been terrific since missing some time with a wrist injury, hitting .339/.373/.575 with 11 homers, 50 RBI, and 31 runs. In the postseason, Graham has been a catalyst for the Rebel offense, going 12-for-38 (.316) with one homer and nine RBI. If the offense continues to roll led by Elko, they will have a good shot at winning the title. They have gone from the last team in to being on the verge of winning it all.

Three Keys to Victory for Oklahoma

Strike First

All postseason, the Sooners have been the team to strike first offensively in most games. Their very young team has jumped out to a lead in all three of their College World Series games and two other games in the tournament. Oklahoma will look to continue that trend in the final. When they have gotten ahead first they haven’t lost the lead too often. The Sooners are 28-8 in games they have hit at least one homer, 28-6 when scoring first, and 12-5 when scoring in the first inning. Their bullpen has been able to hold leads, with graduate closer Trevin Michael holding a 2.66 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 95 strikeouts, and 10 saves in 71 innings over 31 appearances at the backend. In Wednesday’s clinching game, the Sooners grabbed the early lead and David Sandlin shut down Texas A&M by recording a career-high 12 strikeouts and allowing just one run.

The trio of Jake Bennett, Cade Horton, and Sandilin has made the difference for Oklahoma, with Michael providing the finishing touches. The freshman Horton struck out a career-high 11 while shutting down the Notre Dame offense and allowing just two runs over six strong. Bennett will be on full rest going into the first game, while Horton is lined up to start the second game.

Star Players Perform

Besides the pitching, the big-name hitters have also been key for the Sooners. Tanner Tredaway and Peyton Graham are the two names that mostly come to mind, who are both riding 17-game hitting streaks. Tredaway is the only senior in the lineup and has gone 21-for-43 (.488) with three homers and 10 RBI in the postseason. Sophomore catcher Jimmy Crooks has been another star bat in the middle of the Oklahoma lineup, and he delivered the first blow in Wednesday’s game with a three-run homer in the first. Crooks also hit a three-run homer in the opening round of the College World Series. If these names stay hot, the Sooners will be able to get leads early and give their pitching a chance to close it.

Bottom of the Lineup

While the star bats have been hitting well, it’s the bottom of the lineup that needs to add some value. The seven through nine hitters in the Oklahoma lineup were only 6-for-29 (.207) over their three College World Series games so far. Redshirt sophomore outfielder Kendall Pettis was on fire throughout the Regionals and Super Regionals but has since cooled down. Over the first seven games of the tournament, the usual nine-hole hitter had gone 9-for-23 with three homers, eight RBI, and 10 runs scored. But in the World Series, he has gone 0-for-9. If he can shake himself from the slump, that would really help the bottom of the lineup turn it back over to the top.

Betting Odds to Win CWS

DraftKings: Ole Miss: -130 | Oklahoma: +105
Fanduel: Ole Miss: -125 |
Oklahoma: +105

Prediction: Ole Miss in 3

College World Series Most Outstanding Player: Tim Elko


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Main Image Credit: From NCAA.com

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