Dylan DeLucia's Gem Leads Ole Miss To CWS Win
OMAHA – Dylan Delucia on Saturday night was in total control. In the biggest game of the season, the Mississippi ace carved up Auburn hitters and pounded the strike zone relentlessly, putting zero after zero on the scoreboard.
DeLucia started the game by retiring the first 14 batters he faced before Brody Moore lined a single into right field with two outs in the fifth inning. Auburn threatened just once, pushing a run across in the seventh inning with three straight hits, but it wasn’t enough to rattle the righthander.
DeLucia delivered his best start of the season on college baseball’s biggest stage to lead Ole Miss to a 5-1 victory against Auburn. The Rebels now move on in the winner’s bracket to play Arkansas on Monday, while Auburn faces an elimination game that afternoon against Stanford.
DeLucia held Auburn to one run on four hits in 7.2 innings. He struck out 10 batters, walked none and pitched with authority all night. In the first seven innings, he only twice got into three-ball counts. The Tigers simply never figured him out.
“He was able to do just about anything tonight,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “And you could tell they had a tough time figuring him out. But a lot of people do.”
DeLucia wasn’t doing anything fancy on Saturday. He pounded the strike zone and challenged Auburn to beat him. The Tigers couldn’t beat him.
“That literally was my game plan, throw it in the zone, let them hit it,” he said. “If they don't hit it, good for me. Just put the ball in play and let my defense work for me.”
DeLucia improved to 7-2, 4.07 with 98 strikeouts and 26 walks in 86.1 innings this season. While those are solid numbers, he has been even better since Ole Miss committed to him as a starter in mid-April. Since then, he is 6-2, 3.15 with 69 strikeouts and 17 walks in 60 innings. His development into a true No. 1 starter has been a critical piece to the Rebels’ turnaround that has seen them surge from facing their season’s own mortality when they were just 7-14 in SEC play to now sitting four wins away from the program’s first national championship.
DeLucia arrived at Ole Miss last fall after transferring from Northwest Florida State JC, where he had built a solid track record over two years. The Rebels were facing the task of rebuilding their pitching staff after losing starters Doug Nikhazy and Gunnar Hoglund and closer Taylor Broadway from last year’s super regional team. It took Bianco some time to figure out exactly where all the pieces of the pitching staff best fit this spring, but eventually DeLucia moved into the rotation and he’s more than run with the opportunity.
DeLucia has succeeded without overwhelming stuff. His fastball sits in the low 90s, sometimes ticking higher. His slider is a good offering, and he can mix in a changeup against lefthanded hitters. But he succeeds more thanks to his ability to locate his stuff to both sides of the plate and his confidence on the mound.
“The fastball can be so dominant,” Bianco said. “You look at the board, it's 90-93. He'll bump it 94, 95. But there's a lot of low 90s, which is good, but it's not, I think, impressive when you look at the scoreboard like you see some other guys that are throwing the ball mid-to-upper 90s.
“But he commands it. It's got good run on it. And it makes them very uncomfortable. And he can throw it on both sides of the plate. When he's ahead in the count like that, you can see that they're not able to barrel up the fastball. And when you don't do that, then it's tough to get to the breaking ball.”
Auburn never figured out DeLucia. The Tigers couldn’t barrel up his fastball and couldn’t force him out of his comfort zone. When the two teams met during the regular season, DeLucia made an appearance out of the bullpen and was solid, throwing 3.1 innings to pick up a win, but it wasn’t the same.
On Saturday in Omaha, DeLucia was ahead in the count all night, enabling him to control the action.
“There was just not those big disadvantage counts for us to do damage,” coach Butch Thompson said. “It seemed like the whole day we were trying to make contact more or less than trying to get into some advantageous situations, getting the lead-off man on, getting set for an inning.”
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In the end, it was Ole Miss that worked itself into those advantageous situations. The Rebels created a two-out rally in the first inning with three straight hits, including a two-run single from Kemp Alderman that gave them a lead they would never relinquish. They added on with a solo home run in the third inning from Kevin Graham and two more runs in the sixth. With DeLucia and reliever Josh Mallitz, who struck out three batters and threw the final 1.1 innings to finish the game, on the mound, five runs was plenty.
Ole Miss is the only team that has yet to lose in the NCAA Tournament, off to a 6-0 start after sweeping through the Coral Gables Regional and the Hattiesburg Super Regional before Saturday’s win. Its pitching staff has been at the forefront of its success, allowing just 12 runs in those six games.
The Rebels were one of the last four teams the selection committee placed in the Field of 64. It was a chance they weren’t sure they were going to get after getting knocked out of the SEC Tournament in the opening round. But, once they got in the tournament, the Rebels have played free and easy. They look like the team that ranked No. 1 in the country in March, not the team that struggled through four straight SEC series losses in April.
A difficult Arkansas team awaits Ole Miss on Monday evening. But the Rebels have risen to every challenge thrown out them so far in the NCAA Tournament and they’re playing with supreme confidence.
Graham said the Rebels were continuing to ride the same vibe that carried them to Omaha.
“Just ready to keep playing some more baseball,” he said.
DeLucia was more than ready Saturday against Auburn. In the Rebels’ first game in Omaha since 2014, they made it clear that they intend to keep playing baseball for a while longer.