The Oklahoma Sooners open the 2022 College World Series championship series with an edge in pitching.
The Sooners will send ace Jake Bennett to the mound on Saturday night to face the Ole Miss Rebels in Game 1 at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska.
Bennett has been fantastic during Oklahoma's postseason run and he is the only ace that will take the hill on Saturday.
Ole Miss was forced to use its ace, Dylan DeLucia, in an elimination game on Thursday. DeLucia could be waiting in reserve for a potential Game 3 on Monday.
The SEC side is no stranger to winning low-scoring games with or without DeLucia on the mound this postseason, so it should feel somewhat comfortable in a tight affair against Bennett.
Ole Miss needs its star bats to show up against the Sooners ace to give it a fighting chance with the pitching disadvantage.
Prospects to Watch
Jake Bennett, LHP, Oklahoma
Jake Bennett is one of the main reasons why Oklahoma cruised to three wins in Omaha and has a rested pitching staff for the championship series.
Bennett opened the College World Series with six solid innings against the Texas A&M Aggies.
Bennett gave up four earned runs on five hits and struck out three in his first Omaha outing. He received eight runs of support in the first two innings, and the Sooners offense added on a cushion of four more runs in the fourth inning.
The left-handed hurler gave up one earned run in the super regional opener against the Virginia Tech Hokies, and he limited the Liberty Flames to three earned runs on nine hits to kick off the regional round.
Bennett received a rare opportunity to rest his arm because Cade Horton and David Sandlin twirled a pair of gems in Oklahoma's two other wins in Omaha. Bennett might have been used in an elimination game against Texas A&M if the Aggies beat the Sooners on Wednesday.
Ole Miss ran into that exact situation with its ace, Dylan DeLucia, and it comes into the championship series with an unknown pitching strategy.
Oklahoma knows it will be going to its ace and its No. 2 in consecutive days, and that could give it the advantage it needs to avoid DeLucia on rest in a potential Game 3.
Bennett does need to clean up his hit concessions to get through the Ole Miss lineup multiple times. He allowed 22 hits across his three postseason starts.
The Sooners' Game 1 starter pitched with a lead for most of the postseason with the exception of the first two innings against Liberty. He gave up three first-inning runs and then settled in. Oklahoma handed him a lead after the second inning.
As long as he avoids an early concession, Bennett should lock in for six or seven innings and give Oklahoma a solid chance to go ahead by one game.
Tim Elko, 1B, Ole Miss
Tim Elko is the player to watch inside the Ole Miss lineup.
Elko leads the Rebels with 23 home runs, and he could be one of the players who get to Bennett early on in Saturday's game.
An early set of runs would be ideal for Elko and the Ole Miss lineup to provide its starting pitcher with some type of advantage.
Elko could use a first-inning hit to boost his confidence in Omaha a bit. He is 1-for-7 with a single in his last two games.
He hit a home run in Monday's clash with the Arkansas Razorbacks, but the familiarity with the SEC West pitching staff may have hurt Elko in the last two games against the Hogs in Omaha on Wednesday and Thursday.
Elko presents a new challenge to the Oklahoma pitching staff, and he could feast on their unfamiliarity with his skill set in person by hitting a game-changing long ball or two.
Ole Miss might only need two or three runs to get past Oklahoma if it gets locked into a pitching duel. The Rebels allowed nine runs over four games in Omaha, and they allowed more than five runs once this postseason.
Pick: Oklahoma 3, Ole Miss 2
Do not expect a ton of scoring from either side.
Bennett should limit Ole Miss' overall output at the plate, and the Rebels' pitching staff has been strong without its ace on the hill.
Oklahoma carries an extra day of rest into the championship series, and its offense produced 24 runs over three games in Omaha.
All of the edges on paper for Game 1 are in favor of Oklahoma, and it should cash in on that to set up Cade Horton to clinch the title in Game 2.