Dylan DeLucia Shuts Out Arkansas To Send Ole Miss To CWS Finals
OMAHA – With his 114th pitch of the afternoon Thursday, Dylan DeLucia threw a 92 mph fastball past Chris Lanzilli for his seventh strikeout, ending the game. As Lanzilli turned around to return to the dugout, DeLucia pumped his fist and flung his glove in celebration. As the Rebels streamed out of the dugout, the Ole Miss righthander hugged catcher Hayden Dunhurst.
DeLucia had just completed a four-hit shutout against Arkansas to lead Ole Miss to a 2-0 victory and send the Rebels to the College World Series final. For the first time in program history, the Rebels will play for the national championship. Ole Miss will this weekend play Oklahoma in the best-of-three championship series, beginning Saturday.
Considering the stakes of the game – win and go to the final, lose and have the season end – and the opposition, DeLucia’s performance may have been the best in program history. No matter where it precisely ranks – coach Mike Bianco said it compares to Drew Pomeranz striking out 16 batters on two days rest in the 2009 Oxford Regional final – it will live forever in Ole Miss lore.
“When you start splitting hairs and you're comparing yourself to Drew Pomeranz, who’s like a ten-year Big Leaguer, pretty good for a guy from Daytona Beach,” Bianco said.
DeLucia came to Ole Miss last fall after two seasons at Northwest Florida State JC. While he has developed into the Rebels’ unquestioned ace over the second half of the season, it took him some time to emerge in that role. He began the season pitching out of the bullpen and didn’t make his first start until April 1 against Kentucky.
DeLucia still wasn’t a rotation regular until two weeks later, when he held South Carolina to one run in 7.2 innings. From that start on, he went 7-2, 2.74 with 76 strikeouts and 17 walks in 69 innings.
DeLucia’s growth settled an Ole Miss pitching staff that struggled throughout the first half. At one point, Bianco said he was abandoning the concept of starting pitchers. A little more than two months later, DeLucia delivered like a true ace.
“It's been interesting, a fun ride,” DeLucia said. “Coach B always says enjoy the ride, and that's what we've been doing, and that's what I've been doing, just taking every chance I get, kind of running away with it. Just not looking back.”
DeLucia is not overpowering, typically throwing his fastball in the low 90s with the ability to occasionally tick it up. He said on Thursday that he didn’t have his best command at the start of the game and had to instead rely more on his slider. But as the game wore on, he started controlling his fastball better, and his relentless strike throwing was too much for the Razorbacks.
DeLucia has thrown 16.2 innings in Omaha and has yet to issue a walk. Only Roger Clemens has ever thrown more innings (17.2, 1983) at the CWS without walking a batter.
“He did a great job of throwing strike one,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He threw a lot of sliders. He threw a lot of fastballs. He mixed it up. In, out.
“(He threw) some breaking balls away, and he was throwing it for a strike. He gets you leaning out over the plate and busts you in.”
Arkansas righthander Conor Noland nearly matched DeLucia. He held Ole Miss to two runs on seven hits and no walks in eight innings, striking out eight batters. But the Rebels were twice able to push a run across the plate against him, first in the fourth inning when Kevin Graham delivered a two-out, RBI double and again in the seventh inning when Calvin Harris drove in a key insurance run.
It was a Thursday afternoon in Omaha, but with DeLucia and Noland dueling, it felt more like a Friday night in Oxford or Fayetteville.
“Both Connor and, I thought, Dylan pitched today like Friday Night aces in the Southeastern Conference,” Bianco said. “(They) were terrific and really kind of matching each other pitch for pitch.”
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Now, Ole Miss, a team that was 7-14 in the SEC after losing a series at Arkansas on May 1 and was one of the last four teams selected to the NCAA Tournament, will play for the national championship. The Rebels have had a roller coaster ride of a season, beginning the year ranked No. 9 in the Preseason Top 25 and ascending to No. 1 in the ranking a month into the season before losing four straight conference series in April.
In a state as baseball obsessed as Mississippi and for a program as proud as Ole Miss, the pressure mounted. But the Rebels dug out of the hole with sweeps of Missouri and Louisiana State. They heated up just in time and became a force in the postseason, sweeping through the Coral Gables Regional and shutting out Southern Mississippi on the road over two games of the Hattiesburg Super Regional.
In Omaha, Ole Miss opened with a 5-1 win against Auburn and defeated Arkansas 13-5 in the critical winner’s bracket game. That gave the Rebels the margin for error that a 3-2 loss Wednesday to Arkansas only forced a rematch Thursday.
The manner of Wednesday’s loss when Ole Miss left the bases loaded in the ninth inning, might have been devastating. But the Rebels regrouped and, with DeLucia on the mound, were ready for Thursday’s showdown.
“That was one of the challenges we said this morning, that nobody said it was going to be easy,” Bianco said. “Right? It's not supposed to be easy. You've got to be tough enough to handle it.
“Maybe some of that April toughed us, weathered us a little bit to be able to handle last night and be able to bounce back today.”
Now, Ole Miss faces the ultimate challenge. Oklahoma, which wrapped up its bracket on Wednesday, giving it an extra day’s rest and a perfectly aligned rotation, awaits in the championship series.
Beating the Sooners won’t be easy, but what has been for the Rebels? They haven’t played a home game in the postseason. They had to scramble just to make the NCAA Tournament. Thursday might have officially been the first time this year that Ole Miss played an elimination game, but the reality is it has been playing those for two months.
After a legendary performance from DeLucia kept the Ole Miss alive and sent the Rebels to the championship series, they’ll have the opportunity this weekend to etch their own names in program history.