OMAHA, Neb. — Rebel ace Dylan DeLucia was cruising Thursday afternoon. He had thrown six shutout innings and just received a second run of support in the top of the seventh, but an out on the basepaths prevented the lead from growing past 2-0. If the Razorbacks were going to score some runs and save their season, the bottom of the seventh was the time to do it.
The frame began with two quick outs, followed by an infield single and a fielding error to snap a stretch of 19 batters of which DeLucia retired 18. Sensing the pressure, Mississippi head coach Mike Bianco went to the mound to talk with his pitcher with two runners on. Arkansas senior designated hitter Brady Slavens hit the next pitch to short right field, where second baseman Peyton Chatagnier was waiting to scoop the ball and throw him out.
Just like that, the momentum was gone. DeLucia went on to finish the game, overshadowing Razorback senior right-hander Connor Noland’s eight-inning gem, and Ole Miss advanced to the Men’s College World Series Finals with a 2-0 win over the Hogs.
“Dylan just did a great job over there,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said in the postgame press conference. “He didn't walk anybody. He didn't give us a chance. We didn't have a leadoff man on (base) one time in nine innings. It's hard to score against good pitching when the leadoff man doesn't get on here and there.”
Not only did the Razorbacks not have a leadoff man reach base, they did not have a single baserunner with fewer than two outs. Just five Hogs made it to first base: two in the first with singles, another knock in the fourth and the two runners in the seventh. Thursday’s loss marked the second time in its last three CWS appearances that Arkansas’ season ended on the losing end of a complete game shutout.
“Tip my hat to him,” sophomore third baseman Cayden Wallace said. “He did a good job keeping us off balance and throwing strikes. He threw well, mixed up, in and out. Our approach was to hit a line drive up the middle and just let the off-speed get in our bat path. I thought we hit the ball well as a team, but it just didn't work out for us today. Sometimes that happens.”
As DeLucia puzzled Razorback hitters, Noland did the same on the other side for the most part. He made it out of the third with a hit and two strikeouts to his name, having faced the minimum nine hitters, thanks to a slick, inning-ending, 3-6-3 double play.
The second hit Noland allowed was a leadoff single to third baseman Justin Bench. Following a productive groundout and a strikeout, Ole Miss left fielder Kevin Graham doubled to right field, providing the only run of support DeLucia needed to defeat Arkansas.
Noland made it through the next two innings facing the minimum six hitters, benefitting once again from a sharp double play from his infield. Shifting against Rebel shortstop Jacob Gonzalez, the Hogs went around the horn, 5-6-3, to get their ace through the sixth. That secured his fourth quality start in as many tries in the NCAA Tournament.
Noland’s shorter outings down the stretch allowed him to recover from his heavy workload early in the season, Van Horn said.
“Getting him out of the game early probably got him the rest he needed, and he flipped the switch there,” Van Horn said. “He's a good athlete. He's a competitor. Once he got the rest, I think he bounced back and just did what physically he could do.”
The Rebels threatened again with a leadoff single off the bat of first baseman Tim Elko in the seventh. Graham’s second knock of the afternoon advanced him to second, and right fielder Calvin Harris brought him home with another hit. The Rebels could have had two on and one out with that single, but the rally lost steam when he was thrown out trying to take second base on the throw home.
Even after the Hogs wasted their chance in the bottom of the seventh, Noland went back out and worked a 1-2-3 eighth. It was his fourth perfect inning and the sixth in which he faced the minimum, capping off his last — and arguably best — outing in a Razorback uniform.
“It was unbelievable,” Wallace said of Noland’s performance. “He let up two runs, and they were honestly just very unfortunate runs. Just flipped through the infield. He pitched his heart out for us just like he did all year. We knew he was on short rest. We knew he was going to give it everything he's got, just like he does every outing.”
Senior left-hander Evan Taylor made his third appearance of the CWS in the ninth inning, retiring the Rebels in order to keep the game within reach. Even after 102 pitches and with Wallace and graduate seniors Michael Turner and Chris Lanzilli due up for Arkansas, DeLucia came back to finish the Hogs off, which he did in a matter of 11 pitches.
“It was a great pitchers' duel,” Van Horn said. “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.”
The Razorbacks finished their season with a 46-21 record, reaching the 46-win plateau for the fourth time in the past four full seasons. Their CWS trip was the third in the past four NCAA Tournaments, and the appearance in the national semifinals marked their best finish since 2018.
“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 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.”