BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
OMAHA, Neb. – A few minutes after Ole Miss downed Arkansas 2-0 Thursday to advance to the College World Series championship round, Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn met with his team.
It was bittersweet and he admitted there were a tough few moments, but Van Horn wanted to clearly convey how proud he was of a team that once again finished in college baseball’s Mecca.
“…Disappointed that we lost, but so proud of my team,” Van Horn said. “Just proud of the way they fought really the last four or five weeks to get back to where we knew we should be, and that’s here in Omaha.
“I told them after the game how proud I was of them. I’m not going to — I had a little trouble talking, but I told them that I’m not going to cry. I’m not going to cry when you finish your season in Omaha.”
Arkansas (46-21) lost four in a row to end the regular season and in the SEC Tournament and 8 of its last 12 heading into the NCAA Tournament.
But a 5-1 run in Stillwater, Okla., and Chapel Hill, N.C., turned the face of the season around.
That run resulted in the seventh Razorback College World appearance under Van Horn and the 11th overall for Arkansas, who is still looking for its first baseball national title.
“There’s so many cliches,” Van Horn said. “I don’t feel like we overachieved. I feel like we had a good team, but I think we ended up where we should have ended up, which is in Omaha.
“I didn’t feel like we had a ton of depth position player-wise. We went with the same guys all year because that’s what we had. Thank goodness nobody got hurt really.
“Just a team that — I mean, they showed up every day and played. “They really gave us a great effort. I told them that a lot this year. Even when we lost or it didn’t go well there in May, it’s not because they didn’t want to.
“It’s not because they were done. They just didn’t have a good month. It happens.”
Arkansas third baseman Cayden Wallace, a draft eligible sophomore likely to be taken in the first round of the 2022 Major League Baseball draft, summed up the season’s stretch run.
Wallace, Michael Turner, Chris Lanzilli and Robert Moore all had one hit each for Arkansas on Thursday.
“I would just say it’s been a blessing,” Wallace said. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs throughout the year, and we just never gave up on ourselves, and coaches never gave up on us. Just I would say it honestly ended unreal.
“We’re very fortunate to make it this far and be three runs from making it to the championship.
“I’m just very thankful for this team, and we’re very tough. This is how Coach Van Horn has his teams. They’re very tough and all good and all talented. He does a good job coaching us.”
Arkansas senior pitcher Connor Noland pitched eight innings while allowing the two runs on seven hits, fanning seven and not walking anyone.
“I think the same thing,”Noland said. “ We had a team meeting down at the SEC Tournament, kind of got together and decided that we had to turn things around right then. You saw we answered that calling. This team has so many tough players, tough individuals, and tough coaches.
“I think you saw that throughout the postseason. So I’m just really proud of these guys and thankful we had the opportunity.”
Ole Miss scored single runs in the fourth and seventh innings at Charles Schwab Stadium to win.
That turned out to be enough for Rebels ace Dylan DeLucia (8-2), who fired a complete-game four hitter while fanning seven and only allowing two hits after the opening frame.
“I just went out there, just kind of put as much zeros as I can,” DeLucia said. “Last time me and Noland had this match up. So it was cool to have ace versus ace again. Noland’s a great pitcher.
“Last time it was a dogfight. This time it was a dogfight. So it was just really cool to have that again.”
DeLucia, who threw 113 pitches (75 strikes), thought he could have been even better in a quick game that lasted just two hours and six minutes.
“I thought I didn’t really have command of my fastball until later in the game, but I was committing the slider so well, so we just stuck with it,” DeLucia said. “Throwing it for first pitch strike, throwing it late in the count. But just attacked them at the end of the day.”
He faced just three batters in seven of his nine innings on the mound and retired 18 of 19 Arkansas batters at one point in the game.
“Yeah, it’s one of the best pitchers’ duels I’ve seen up here,” Van Horn said. “I’ve been up here a few times and very fortunate. The game lasted two hours and ten minutes or something. Pitchers were just throwing strike after strike and defense.
“We did what we did all year long we played defense and turned a couple double plays. But it was a great pitchers’ duel. It’s one of the better ones, obviously, that I’ve seen up here, that’s for sure.
“I like offense. I like defense. I like good pitching. I just like good baseball, and that was a good baseball game.”
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco’s program will playing for its first national title beginning Saturday night.
Once 24-17 and 7-14 in SEC action, the Rebels will do so at 40-23 after taking two of three games from Arkansas this week at Charles Schwab Field.
“Just wow,” Bianco said. “I mean, another really great baseball game, I thought, by both teams. Another really — I was going to say well, but I don’t think that does it justice. Another great pitching performance by both clubs.
“I thought it was a super game,” Bianco added. “We got a couple of huge hits by Kevin (Graham) and Calvin Harris, the timely hit that we talk about so much. But the story of the day was Dylan, just (a) legendary performance.”