Jack Dougherty, the unlikely hero of Ole Miss against Oklahoma, gives the Rebels a win over the Men’s College World Series title

OMAHA, Neb. – Ole Miss, one of the last four teams invited to the NCAA Baseball Tournament, is one win away from being the last team standing.

Mississippi beat Oklahoma 10-3 in Game 1 of the three men’s college World Series final on Saturday, propelled to victory by an unlikely arm: relief pitcher Jack Dougherty.

A sophomore from Collierville, Tennessee, Dougherty was forced to serve as a starter because the team’s two aces were used in Mississippi’s march to this championship series.

“Coach [Mike Bianco] grabbed me before the game and said, ‘Just be you,’ Dougherty said after the game. ‘”

The right-hander responded with his longest outing of the season: five perfect baseball innings before leaving the mound in the sixth with a 4-1 lead and bases loaded with no outs. His relief came through freshman right-hander Mason Nichols, who struck out five of the seven batters he faced in two innings of work and gave up just one run, charged at Dougherty.

“I thought it was really the baseball game over there [in the sixth]to leave the field there with just a few,” Bianco said.

A trio of Ole Miss pitchers – Dougherty, Nichols and second Josh Mallitz – took advantage of an established cushion early, as their hitting teammates posted two runs high in the first and added one more each in the second and third innings. The last of those came off batting senior and emerging fifth-year Oxford, Mississippi folk hero Tim Elko, who blasted his 24th home run of the season, the culmination of a 4-for-5 night at the plate, which was the first four-hit outing for an MCWS hitter since 2009.

When teammates TJ McCants, Calvin Harris and Justin Bench threw back-to-back home runs in the top of the eighth — the first team to do so since LSU in 1998 — the score was 8-2 and the game was essentially over.

Oklahoma squandered what looked like a huge mismatch on paper, sending ace Jake Bennett to the mound with a week off, after not pitching since the Sooners’ MCWS opener against Texas A&M on June 17. Now Ole Miss will have No. 2 starter Hunter Elliott and his perfect playoff record on the mound Sunday afternoon with a shot at the title after five days off. Should a Game 3 become necessary on Monday, the Rebels could conceivably have ace Dylan DeLucia available for at least some work after his audacious shutout Thursday afternoon that pushed Ole Miss into the final.

The Rebels are one win away from not only their first MCWS title, but also the school’s second NCAA-recognized national championship in any team sport. The women’s golf team won the university’s first title just a year ago. The school claimed three national football titles from 1958 to 1960, but none of those were honored by the Associated Press or coaches’ polls.

“We still have one game to win,” Elko said. “Obviously it’s great to win the first one, but we still have one more to win. We’ll be rested tomorrow, focused and ready to win one more.”

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