Elko and magic ACL represent Ole Miss' resiliency

·3 min read

Jun. 11—TUCSON, Ariz. — Aside from the staples of hitting, pitching and defense, Ole Miss has often had the "it" factor on its run to the NCAA baseball super regionals.

The Rebels hope their resiliency can push them over the hump and into the College World Series when the Tucson Super Regional begins tonight.

First pitch against No. 5 seed Arizona is at 8 p.m., and the game will air on ESPNU.

The Wildcats (43-15) are the Pac-12 champs. They breezed through their regional against Grand Canyon and Santa Barbara (twice) without a loss.

Starts times for Game 2 and the if necessary Game 3 are 9 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN2) and 8 p.m. on Sunday (ESPNU or ESPN2), respectively.

The Rebels (44-20) have had to adjust to playing without key components much of the season whether it be second baseman Peyton Chatagnier and pitcher Doug Nikhazy early in the season or first baseman/DH Tim Elko and pitcher Gunnar Hoglund later.

Many others have missed games and innings as well.

"What we've had to go through this year is unreal. I wouldn't wish it on any other team, but I think we've handled it better than anyone could have imagined," said Elko.

Elko suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament after a collision in a non-conference game on April 5.

The knee responded to early treatment, and surgery has been delayed.

In the meantime Elko has impacted the stretch run in a major way.

Since drawing a standing ovation in his return — a pinch-hit at-bat against South Carolina on May 1 — Elko and his magic ACL are hitting .309 with 18 RBIs and eight home runs.

He was just 1 for 10 in the first three days of the Oxford Regional, but the one hit was massive — a game-changing grand slam in the opener against Southeast Missouri State. He went 3 for 3 with two home runs — one of them another grand slam — in the title-clincher against Southern Miss on Monday.

Elko was named the regional's MVP.

"Holy cow. It's legendary. What seemed like maybe one of the biggest tragedies of not just our season but of somebody's career here has turned into one of the biggest legends that we'll all be talking about for decades. We're seeing it live. It's pretty cool," Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.

Elko's story stands out in the Rebels' strong finish.

He says he's not alone. He cites early-career turbulence experienced by Ole Miss veterans for creating chemistry and toughness, traits they've passed along to eager younger teammates.

A senior from Lutz, Florida, Elko hit .216 in 29 games as a true freshman in 2018 when Ole Miss failed to advance from the Oxford Regional as a No. 4 national seed.

"We've had some tough stuff the last couple of years. I think we've let that grow us instead of hurt us. We passed that on to some of the younger guys on our team and got them on board with our culture of we're never going to quit, we're never out of a fight," he said. "No matter what we go through we just keep punching back."

parrish.alford@djournal.com