Ole Miss Feels Like “We’re Just Playing Baseball With the Boys”
OMAHA, Neb. (OMSI) – On an off day from games at the College World Series, Mike Bianco was asked during a media session what more Tim Elko could do.
“Invite us to his statue ceremony, I guess,” the Ole Miss head baseball coach smiled and said as his team warmed up for a practice session at Creighton University on Tuesday.
Bianco obviously hopes, like all those involved with the team and those cheering for the Rebels, the team’s captain continues to do more of what he’s done. Ole Miss would not be where it is right now, in the Final Four of college baseball this season, had it not been for Elko’s contributions.
“What else can you say about him that hasn’t been said?” Bianco went on to say. “He’s going to go down in history as one of the best players that ever played in a program that’s had a lot of really great players, and not just since I’ve been here, from Jake Gibbs to Don Kessinger to David Dellucci, and all the others. A guy that’s done it on the big stage, a guy that’s done it through adversity, a guy that’s done it with the media coverage, a guy that didn’t have to be here. He could have exited last year after surgery and gotten drafted and played professional baseball.”
But he stayed, and on college baseball’s final days of the 2022 season, he and his team play on.
“When we first made it to Omaha, down in Hattiesburg, it didn’t really sink in until we flew here and got to see the field,” Elko said on Tuesday. “Even now, it’s just like we’re playing baseball games. It hasn’t really sunk in that we’re playing in Omaha in front of 25,000 people. We’ve just gone out there and played baseball and I think that’s a good thing. It just means we’re relaxed and able to play our game and not let the outside factors affect us. It just feels like we’re playing baseball with the boys.”
That’s leading like a team captain should, but that’s also the way Elko is as a person – a veteran player who has been through not only many baseball games but the struggles that have come through injury, the Covid era, and awaiting a bid to the NCAA Tournament on Memorial Day that many felt might not come. But it did, and Elko and his team have certainly made the most of their opportunity.
“This is about as good as it gets, especially at the right time,” he said. “We’ve had some really, really good teams at Ole Miss in the past. We’ve had some hot streaks and what not. But this is definitely some of the best baseball I’ve been able to see played here at Ole Miss. Like I said, it’s coming at the right time for us.”
Ole Miss is 7-0 in the NCAA postseason. The four teams remaining – Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma, in addition to the Rebels – can all win the tournament. None of those teams has played better “down the stretch” than Ole Miss.
“That’s not too bad,” Elko said of the Rebels outscoring their opponents 64-17 in the Regional, Super Regional, and through two games here. “Our starting pitching has given us a really good chance to win games. And our bullpen has just been incredible the last couple of weeks. Giving up only 17 runs in that span is just unbelievable. It makes it a little easier to score those runs.”
Elko said this team has continued to believe, and that’s been the case each year he’s been in the program.
“Every year I’ve thought we’d go to Omaha and that we were good enough to win the national championship,” he said. “Even this year when things were going really bad and things were looking down, I just tried to stay positive. You’re going to be defeated no matter what if you don’t keep that mindset. We’re one of the best teams in the country. We can go do this thing.”
In a sense, the Rebels of 2022 are playing not only for themselves but for everyone who has ever been associated with Ole Miss baseball.
“It feels like we’re playing for all of Ole Miss, former, future, and everybody that’s a part of Ole Miss,” Elko said.
The still incomplete story of this year’s baseball season will be finished in the next few days. While there are several storylines, none stand out more than the rather lengthy chapter of Tim Elko.
“Some people have said it a little bit but maybe it’s been touched on the least,” Bianco said. “There’s a guy who had to make a decision to come back, a guy that’s already graduated, he hurt his knee and came back from that. Became a legend in last year’s season. It would have been easy for most kids to say ‘Hey, I’ve been drafted’ and then move on. And he had that opportunity.
“He had several calls but he decided to come back,” Bianco continued, “because he wanted to go to the College World Series. Those are the neat stories this time of year. And that story really came true.”