In a season when most of the SEC’s most talented pitching arms were MIA, Dylan DeLucia might not have been the first name on the list of SEC aces, but Thursday afternoon, he was very much the last man standing.

DeLucia was superb, pitching the Rebels past Arkansas 2-0 on Thursday for the Rebels’ first appearance in the College World Series finals. In going the distance in the biggest win in Rebels history, DeLucia made a genius out of coach Mike Bianco.

Bianco, handed the reins at Ole Miss on June 7, 2000, demonstrated the merits of a program standing by its man by skippering a talented but enigmatic Ole Miss squad to college baseball’s biggest stage.

DeLucia was in command from the first pitch, allowing just 4 Razorback singles, not walking a batter, and faltering only once. In the 7th inning, after 2 Razorback outs, Robert Moore singled and Jalen Battles reached base on an infield error. With the leading run heading to the plate in the person of Arkansas slugger Brady Slavens, Bianco headed to the mound — and left ESPN’s commentators guessing whether DeLucia was done for the day.

The veteran coach stuck with his man, and DeLucia answered the bell, getting Slavens to roll over a harmless ground ball to second base. Inning over, threat over, Arkansas’ season over. Because from there, DeLucia faced 6 more batters and set them all down, 3 by strikeouts, with the last, Kevin Graham, ending the game with DeLucia’s 7th strikeout.

How big was DeLucia’s performance? Kevin Abel’s 2018 shutout of Arkansas was brought up, but the buzzword immediately following the game was “historic.” Given that the win moved the Rebels beyond their prior best CWS showing, it was certainly that. In his past 3 NCAA Tournament starts, DeLucia is 3-0 with 12 hits and 1 earned run allowed in 22 1/3 innings (and 26 strikeouts).

Of course, it is a team game and the Ole Miss offense had to dent the scoreboard for DeLucia, which was no small feat with a valiant effort from Arkansas’ Connor Noland. Kevin Graham doubled in a run in the 4th inning and Calvin Harris singled in an insurance run in the 7th. Noland held Ole Miss to 6 singles and a double in 8 sharp innings. He only had the misfortune to be opposite DeLucia.

The final SEC matchup of the season being a pitcher’s duel was something of an unexpected surprise. The league’s top arms were out of action for most of the 2022 season. Lefty Connor Prielipp missed the season entirely due to injury. Tennessee’s anticipated ace, Blade Tidwell, missed the first half of the season. Florida’s Hunter Barco was shut down midway through the season. Mississippi State star Landon Sims was lost earlier than that. A JUCO product, DeLucia struggled to establish himself early in the year, just as the Rebels fell toward the basement of the SEC West. Three weeks into SEC play, DeLucia had a 6.15 ERA on the season.

The Rebels’ turnaround in postseason play will be perhaps the biggest story of the 2022 season. The work of DeLucia in helping that turnaround can’t be overstated. After his 113th pitch sent the Rebels to Omaha, the well-traveled right-hander had pitched a masterpiece and placed the Rebels — weeks ago headed out of Hoover after a first-round SEC Tournament loss as the league’s No. 9 team — in the College World Series finals.

Dylan DeLucia might not have been the most obvious SEC ace … but plenty of bigger names were stuck watching him on television on Thursday afternoon, as he was the SEC’s ace in the league’s biggest matchup.