OMAHA, Nebraska. If the 2022 Men’s College World Series Championship finalists (Game 1, Sportzshala/Sportzshala App, 7:00 pm ET) weren’t in Omaha and instead were watching TV from home — and, oh, by the way, most thought that this is exactly what they will do now – then it is not difficult to guess who the Oklahoma Sooners would root for or who the Ole Miss Rebels would support.
It would be the Ole Miss Rebels and the Oklahoma Sooners. Why? Because people are always drawn to those who remind them of themselves. And as these two teams have been watching each other from a distance over the past week and a half, they have seen a lot of what seems familiar to them.
“There are so many similarities, there’s no doubt about it,” Oklahoma head coach Skip Johnson said Friday afternoon at Charles Schwab Field, just as the Sooners were starting to practice ahead of their first performance in a series of championships since 1994.
“Ole Miss plays with a lot of heart and so do we. They are led by some cool, smart seniors, just like us. I watched us, we play like that too. It was fun watching these guys. I bet they’d say the same about us.”
“We’ve both had to play every postseason away game and both had some disappointments throughout the year,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco added after taking a picture with Johnson next to the championship trophy.
“I guess both of us were probably not in the public eye as potential national champions even after we got to Omaha last week. So, go out to the other side of such a spring and May and be the last two teams. standing up, we can’t help but feel some kind of kinship, of course.”
To be clear, this relationship is not new. Yes, Ole Miss was No. 1 in the country at the start of the season, fell out of the rankings like his parachute burst, only lasted one game in the SEC Tournament, and was one of the “last four” to the 64th NCAA Tag Team Tournament. And yes, Oklahoma didn’t place in anyone’s preseason top 25, was selected to finish 6th in the Big 12 out of nine teams, and, having failed to secure one of the NCAA’s 16 national seeds, was en route from Gainesville, State Florida, to Blacksburg, Virginia, surviving the elimination game in every location to get to Omaha.
But these two programs have grown to expect such low expectations because, frankly, their collective history has not earned any of them any doubt. Both have always lived on the list of any college baseball fan: “Which schools were always supposed to be much better at baseball than they really are?”
Ole Miss is home to one of college baseball’s great vibes, the always crowded and constantly beer-splattered frontiers of Swayze Field.
Since 2004, they have hosted 10 NCAA Regionals and three Super Regionals. They went 0-3 in those Supers. They’ve made six appearances in the Men’s College World Series, but this is only their second since 1972, and until this week they haven’t won more than two games, let alone reached the final. Meanwhile, every program around them in the cage game, i.e. SEC West, has made a lot more noise in baseball. The Rebels – most painfully – have always played second fiddle to archrivals Mississippi State, which won the MCWS title a year ago, and LSU, the six-time Omaha champion.
Oklahoma also existed in the shadow of its two most despised neighbors. Oklahoma State is an NCAA regular that has made the College World Series 20 times and made the Finals six times. Texas is arguably the greatest collegiate baseball program of all time, with a dozen Finals appearances, six championships, and entire pages in the CWS record book. Despite being in the same area, with the same resources and seemingly the same passion for the game, the Sooners are in Omaha for only the second time since 1995.
However, they have won a couple of national baseball titles. The 1994 team was similar to the church softball team that upset the team of Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek of Georgia Tech in the finals. Prior to that, the 1951 Sooners won the second-ever series held in Omaha, shocking the reigning champion Tennessee. And how did it go?
“We’d love to stay in Omaha and celebrate, but they didn’t give us enough money for hotel rooms, so we got on an old school bus and drove the 500 miles home back to Norman.”
This memory came from Jim Antonio, an outfielder-turned-Hollywood actor, during an interview in 2009.
Sooners legend Bud Wilkinson was also the athletic director and didn’t care much about baseball, telling the team they couldn’t go to Omaha even after qualifying. The school president intervened, but still provided only a bus and did not have enough money for hotels. The surviving team members received their championship rings in 2001. Former pitcher Jack Shirley said at the time, “Probably they were waiting for us to die.”
So yes. This is the story of Oklahoma baseball and Ole Miss. A story that almost guarantees that defeating their longtime underdog colleagues will be the program’s greatest achievement.
That’s why Johnson brought his team to the site where Rosenblatt Stadium, home of those two Sooners titles, once stood. He made them stand at the homemade plate that’s still there – in the zoo’s parking lot – and talk about that past. Which is why he specifically took time this week to sit and think about his former boss and mentor, the late Augie Garrido, arguably the greatest college baseball coach of all, with whom Johnson played three times in the College World Series as an assistant from Texas. .
That’s why Bianco picked up the phone and called his mentor Skip Bertman, who has his own solid GOAT argument. Bianco was Bertman’s catcher and captain of the LSU team that finished third in the 1989 College World Series and went on to win three rings in five seasons as an assistant coach under Bertman in 1993, 1996 and 1997. It was Bertman who calmed Bianco in early May as Ole Miss struggled to get back to .500 in SEC play and there was talk of an imminent layoff. After a fierce showdown with Bertman, Ole Miss overtook LSU in ninth place at Baton Rouge.
“Being able to draw on this kind of mentorship is the best thing for both of us,” Bianco explained of himself and Johnson. “That’s pretty cool, right? To have a direct connection and connection with so much history of this city and this Series.”
It. Even if they don’t have it in their programs, each of them will draw strength from it this weekend in Omaha.
“We may not have as much history as you say,” Johnson added. “Hopefully now we can write something of our own.”