Oklahoma baseball: Ole Miss pitching stymies Sooner bats in championship sweep

Jun 26, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA; Ole Miss wins the game while the Oklahoma Sooners react at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 26, 2022; Omaha, NE, USA; Ole Miss wins the game while the Oklahoma Sooners react at Charles Schwab Field. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports /

Oklahoma baseball fought to the very end, but Ole Miss pitching overmatched the Sooner offense in consecutive games as the Rebels swept to the 2022 national championship with a come-from-behind 4-2 win on Sunday in the Men’s College World Series.

In a game chock full of drama and controversy, Oklahoma let a 2-1 lead get away in the bottom of the eighth, scoring three times, the go-ahead runs scoring on a pair of wild pitches by normally reliable closer Trevin Michael.

Sooner starter Cade Horton recorded the first out of the eighth inning, striking out Hayden Dunhurst before giving up a one-out single to Ole Miss center fielder TJ McCants. Horton had been dominant for the Sooners, keeping OU in the game and giving everything he had, going 7 1/3 innings, allowing just four hits along with a new career-high 13 strikeouts and no walks.

Michael replaced Horton and gave up back-to-back singles, scoring McCants with the tying run. Wild pitches to the next two Ole Miss hitters sealed the Sooners’ fate, with Justin Bench and Jacob Gonzalez scoring the second and third runs in the decisive eighth inning for Ole Miss.

The Sooners went down without a whimper in the top of the ninth with Ole Miss closer Brandon Johnson striking out the side and triggering the Rebels’ victory celebration in winning their first national championship in baseball.

The game was scoreless until the sixth inning, when it appeared Oklahoma had scored the game’s first run on a squeeze bunt by John Spikerman,scoring Jackson Nicklaus from third base, who had gotten on by being hit by a pitch. Diego Muniz laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving Nicklaus to second. Kendall Pettis, the ninth hitter in the OU lineup, struck out swinging but made it to first base on a wild pitch by Ole Miss starter Hunter Elliott, allowing Nicklaus to take third.

Nicklaus’ run was negated, however, when Spikerman, who was originally called safe at first, was called out for interference on video replay. That wiped the lead run by the Sooners off the board and sent Nicklaus back to third, now with two outs. Peyton Graham ended the inning by flying out to left.

As fate would have it, in the bottom of the sixth inning, Gonzales homered to right field off Horton, giving the Rebels a 1-0 lead.

With two out in the top of the seventh inning, OU catcher Jimmy Crooks laced a double down the right field line — only the Sooners’ second hit of the game — followed by a game-tying double by Nicklaus when Ole Miss shortstop Gonzalez appeared to lose Nicklaus’ pop fly to shallow left field in the sun.

With the bases loaded and two out, Ole Miss reliever Mason Nichols walked Sebastion Orduno, scoring Wallace Clark from third and giving OU the go-ahead run at 2-1.

Horton struck out the side in the Ole Miss half of the seventh, but Michael was unable to close the door in the eighth, and the rest is history.

It is impossible to say if the controversial play at first base in the OU sixth that wiped a run off the board and might have resulted in even more. The Sooners had runners at first and third and just one out and with a run already in when the play was overturned. Maybe, maybe not, but it undeniably was a major call in the game.

It’s unfortunate that OU was not able to provide run support in behalf of the brilliant performance on the mound by Horton. But much of the credit for that belongs to an equally outstanding performance by the Ole Miss starter Hunter Elliott, who like Horton is a freshman and performed like a seasoned veteran on the big MCWS stage.

Elliott went 6 2/3 innings, allowing just three OU hits and striking out six Sooners.

The deciding factor in the Ole Miss two-game sweep of Oklahoma in the championship series was the ability of the Rebels’ pitchers to throw strikes early in counts and overmatch the Sooner hitters, shutting down what had been an opportunistic and red-hot offensive attack in OU’s three College World Series wins that advanced the Sooners to the championship series for the third time in their history.

Oklahoma recorded just eight hits off Ole Miss pitching in the two games and was seriously limited in the number of times they had runners in scoring position.

Ole Miss was a team of destiny. The Rebels were a top-10 preseason team but struggled at times throughout the season. They were the last time to earn a berth in the NCAA postseason, and have been on a mission ever since, led by veteran upper-class leadership. They showed in the championship series that they are truly deserving of taking home the championship trophy.

As for what’s next for the Sooners, they should feel very good about the future. OU is a very young team. Only two players in the starting lineup are juniors or seniors. Center fielder Tanner Tredaway is the only senior among the starting nine.

The season may not have ended the way the Sooners and their fans wanted it to, but considering how much they were able to achieve with a team that the Big 12 coaches projected before the season as no better than the sixth best team in the league, there is plenty to be proud of and build upon for next season.