WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., yesterday gave remarks on the Senate floor congratulating Mississippi baseball teams on their national championships in the 2022 season. Both the University of Mississippi Rebels and Pearl River Community College Wildcats secured national championships in the Division I World Series and Division II Junior College World Series, respectively.
Wicker touted Mississippi as the “center of the universe for college baseball,” citing a strong season for the University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles and last year’s championship for the Mississippi State University Bulldogs.
The Mississippi senator celebrated the leadership of Ole Miss Baseball Captain Tim Elko and Head Coach Mike Bianco, who received this year’s National Coach of the Year award. Wicker also recognized Pearl River’s head coach Michael Avalon, who won this year’s National Coach of the Year award for Division II Junior Colleges.
The floor speech follows a resolution Wicker introduced with other members of the Mississippi delegation celebrating Ole Miss’s victory.
Read his remarks as delivered below.
For the second year in a row, the state of Mississippi is the center of the universe for college baseball.
Senator Hyde-Smith and I are proud and delighted this afternoon to congratulate not one but two Mississippi collegiate baseball teams on becoming national champions for their respective divisions this year.
Those teams are the Ole Miss Rebels and the Pearl River Community College Wildcats.
It was just last year that the Mississippi State Bulldogs won their first-ever College World Series national championship.
And with the new year came even more success for baseball in Mississippi.
Last month, after sweating out selection day, Ole Miss went to the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament and won 10 out of 11 games, sweeping Oklahoma in the final round of the College World Series to become national champions.
Just weeks earlier, Pearl River Community College – located in Poplarville, Mississippi – defeated Madison College of Wisconsin in the Division II Junior College World Series.
After spending the entire season ranked in the top five, Pearl River won five out of six games in the playoffs – defeating Florida State College at Jacksonville, Lansing Community College, and finally Madison College in a three-game series finale.
The Wildcats dropped Game 1 to Madison, but then roared back with a 19-1 victory in Game 2 and a decisive 7-2 victory in Game 3.
They finished their season with a sparkling record of 45 wins and 11 losses.
Just think about this for a moment: three college baseball national titles in two years for the state of Mississippi.
Congratulations also go to the University of Southern Mississippi, which had an excellent season and even hosted their first Super Regional in Hattiesburg, ending with a record of 47 wins and 19 losses.
Mr. President, this year’s Ole Miss championship run is a comeback story for the ages.
After spending early parts of the season ranked No. 1 in the nation, the Rebels went into a deep slump in April, losing four straight series and 11 out of 16 games.
In May, they were among the last four teams to be included in the field of 64.
But, they had finished the regular season hot, and some people believed they just might carry that momentum into the playoffs. And they did, outscoring their opponents 46 runs to 11 down the stretch.
Led by Coach Mike Bianco and Team Captain Tim Elko, Ole Miss beat one team after another – first Arizona and Miami in the Regional, then Southern Miss in the Hattiesburg Super Regional, then Auburn and Arkansas in the College World Series – which led to a final, best-two-out-of-three face-off with Oklahoma.
Game 1 was a slugfest.
The Rebels put up 16 hits, including back-to-back-to-back home runs in the 8th inning by TJ McCants, Calvin Harris, and Justin Bench – a stunning feat not seen at the College World Series since 1998.
On the mound, the Ole Miss pitchers kept things quiet. Jack Dougherty, Mason Nichols, and Josh Mallitz gave up just three runs, securing a 10-3 victory.
The decisive Game 2 was a lot closer.
For the first five innings, it was a pitchers’ duel between Ole Miss’s Hunter Elliot of Tupelo, Mississippi, and Cade Horton of Norman, Oklahoma.
The bats finally got going for Ole Miss in the 6th when Jacob Gonzalez hit a solo home run.
The Sooners quickly answered by knocking in two runs, making it 2 to 1, Oklahoma.
But in the 8th inning, Ole Miss tied things up with hits by TJ McCants, Justin Bench, and Jake Gonzalez – and scored two additional runs on wild pitches, making it 4-2.
In the top of the 9th, Brandon Johnson took the mound for Ole Miss and closed out the night with three strikeouts, capping off a magical run for the men from Oxford.
“From last team in, to last team standing,” exclaimed the announcer.
And then, to Oxford they returned, bringing with them the 30th NCAA championship in Ole Miss history.
The day after winning the title, these national champions were welcomed back to campus by crowds of jubilant supporters as they walked the hallowed pathway of the Walk of Champions.
On behalf of the entire state of Mississippi, I commend the Ole Miss team and their staff on this historic achievement.
Justin Bench, Calvin Harris, Kevin Graham, Kemp Alderman, and Dylan DeLucia all were named to the NCAA’s All-Tournament Team.
Dylan DeLucia received the Jack Diesing, Sr., Most Outstanding Player of the Series Award for pitching a complete-game shutout against the Arkansas Razorbacks, becoming the first recipient of the award in Ole Miss history.
And Captain Tim Elko became only the sixth player in history to earn four hits in a Men’s College World Series final – not to mention his 46 career home runs, the second most in school history.
I also congratulate Mike Bianco, who has coached Ole Miss for 22 seasons and led the team to 18 playoff appearances, including two trips to the College World Series in Omaha.
He has rightly been named National Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association and the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
He never gave up on his team, and he inspired his players to persevere through the tough times.
I wish Coach Bianco the best of luck this week as he now leads Team USA at an international tournament in the Netherlands, where he is joined by two Ole Miss players: Hunter Elliott and Jacob Gonzalez.
I also congratulate Michael Avalon, head coach for the Pearl River Wildcats, who after leading his team to a national title was named National Coach of the Year for Division II junior colleges.
And so, Mr. President, I commend the University of Mississippi, Pearl River Community College, the University of Southern Mississippi, and Mississippi State University for carrying on Mississippi’s winning tradition.
Two years ago, after a season cut short by the COVID pandemic, Ole Miss catcher Hayden Dunhurst boldly said:
“I have never been a part of a team so special. … We will bring a National Championship to Oxford.”
And so they did!
Congratulations, and Hotty Toddy.