CORAL GABLES, Fla.—Arizona will face a familiar foe in its NCAA Tournament opener when it takes on the Ole Miss Rebels on Friday night at Alex Rodriguez Park.
The Wildcats (37-23) took two of three games from the Rebels (32-22) last season in a Super Regional at Hi Corbett Field, advancing to the College World Series. Quite a bit has changed for both teams since then, as the UA lost its coach to LSU and Ole Miss had to sweep that same coach on the road in May in order to sneak into the NCAA field.
To better understand what Arizona is facing in its first game, we reached out to Ruby Draayer of SB Nation sister site Red Cup Rebellion to get her insight on this team. These are her fresh answers to our outdated questions:
AZ Desert Swarm: Ole Miss has most of the same players in the batting order as it did in last year’s Super Regionals in Tucson, but it looks like most players (including SS Jacob Gonzalez, who torched Arizona last year) aren’t hitting nearly as well as in 2021. Any explanation for this drop in offense?
Ruby Drayer: “This is one of the many mysteries from this year’s Ole Miss Baseball team. There was so much hype heading into this season with over 90 percent of the offensive firepower returning, but for some reason, they’ve looked kind of flat. I’m not sure if there is a sure answer to it, but I hope for the sake of the season, they figure it out in Miami.”
Please explain how Tim Elko, who more or less got carried off the field in Hi Corbett last June like it was the last time he’d every play baseball, is back and even better than before his injury?
“Tim Elko is the greatest sports story in Ole Miss history. What he has managed to do in the past two seasons is nothing short of miraculous. He’s a monster at the plate with 19 home runs on the season with 61 RBIs. I would look to him to continue to lead this team and have a big weekend.”
Who is someone on the offensive side for the Rebels who has made a big leap from a year ago?
“This answer is very easy, but for some reason, he’s been a little underrated throughout this season. Kevin Graham has been a steady force for the offense, and other than missing a few games to injury in the middle of the season, has been a killer factor for the Rebs. He’s hitting a .345 on the season with 10 home runs and 41 RBIs.”
Starting pitcher Dylan DeLucia strikes out a fair number of batters but is also susceptible to the long ball, allowing 12 home runs. What is he most effective at, and where does he most often get in trouble?
“DeLucia has been the ace pitcher for Ole Miss and took over that responsibility despite the uncertainty heading into this year. I think it’s safe to say that he single-handedly carried the team to a few SEC wins this season, but for some reason he hasn’t had his stuff in his past few outings. I feel good assuming that he will still get the start on Friday, but in order to keep the Rebs in the game, he’s got to be able to keep it in the ballpark.”
Arizona had a home field advantage last year, both in terms of the actual playing surface and the hot, dry conditions. This time the game will be in humid (and probably rainy) conditions. Does this in any way benefit Ole Miss?
“Ugh. If there is one thing that Ole Miss and Mississippi in general know pretty well is unpredictable and crazy weather. These conditions will probably play into the hands of the Rebs, but I’m skeptical if the games will even be able to happen.”
Prediction time: do the Rebels avenge last year’s Super Regionals series loss to Arizona, or do the Wildcats maintain supremacy in this burgeoning rivalry?
“This question is the hardest to answer because I just don’t know. Ole Miss has not looked great for a lot of the season, and then they started to figure things out at the end. They are still a great team, it’s just a matter of if they will be able to jive together in Miami. They want it bad, and there is a lot at stake for the future of Ole Miss Baseball. My gut is telling me that the Rebs will get the upper hand in the rainy conditions, following a very likely weather delay. No matter what happens, I’m confident that it won’t be a boring game. Hotty Toddy and don’t let the Rebs get hot.”