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Graham steals spotlight from his Ole Miss roommate

7 days ago
Joe Menzer | SEC Network
Photo: AP Photo/John Peterson

OMAHA, Nebraska -- Whatever Tim Elko and Kevin Graham are cooking up in their apartment back in Oxford, Mississippi, they need to share it with their teammates.

Elko garners most of the publicity for the Ole Miss offense most of the time, and rightly so.

But on Saturday night at Charles Schwab Field Omaha, Elko had to give way in the offensive spotlight to one of his two roommates. Elko shares an apartment with teammates Graham and leadoff hitter Justin Bench, who also is having a fine season, batting .305.

While Ole Miss pitchers Dylan DeLucia and Josh Mallitz were clearly the pitching stars of the game, combining to hold Auburn's potent offense to one run on four hits, the Rebels' hitting star was Graham. He went 3 for 4 with a double and a home run, scored two runs and drove another in, raising his batting average on the season to .341.

"There are a lot of hits, there are a lot of homers, and there are a lot of wins in that apartment," Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco had noted even before Graham's huge day in a 5-1 win over Auburn in the opening game for both SEC schools in the 2022 Men's College World Series.

Elko, a senior, is a two-time captain who has played three positions and hit the cover off the ball for the Rebels for much of his collegiate career. This season he set a school record with 22 home runs, has 71 RBI and is batting .301 after going 1 for 4 with a walk against Auburn

"He affects the team in a lot of different levels," Bianco said. "One, you just look at the production -- a guy that's hitting the middle lineup for the past three-plus years and just set the Ole Miss season home run record at 22. Leads the team in RBIs. Great defender at first base. He's a big-body guy but moves around terrific. He can play the outfield, can play third base. Just happens to be at first base now because he's coming off of the knee surgery.

"And off the field what a tremendous leader, what a tremendous representative of our institution. People say it and I think they say kind of tongue in cheek, but he is the face of the program. ... Practice ends and everybody wants a piece of Tim and that's because Tim is that guy. He's the face of the program. And academically he's, like, a 4.0 student. You hate to say anybody's perfect, but he's pretty darn close"

Indeed, Elko recently became the first Ole Miss player in program history to be named SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

But while Bianco gushes about Elko at every opportunity, he is quick to praise the lesser-recognized Graham as well.

"Kevin Graham probably is the most underrated player on that offensive team," Bianco said. "Last year, I don't want to use the word snubbed because I don't think that's necessarily true, but he wasn't selected on the first or second team All-SEC. A guy that hit .350, 15 jacks, hits in the middle of our lineup, in a really good lineup. That wais last year."

This year, Graham was slowed earlier by a wrist injury. But now he obviously is hitting his stride again.

"He got injured fourth week of the season and missed about a month, maybe four and a half weeks," Bianco said. "But as soon as he came back, we injected him into the lineup, probably unfairly, because with the fractured wrist, he wasn't able to hit for that month. So the guy doesn't hit for a month and you just throw him in the lineup, (and he) bats fourth in the SEC.

"And he did okay, but you could tell he wasn't where he normally is, timing-wise, strength-wise, just rhythm. But once we got maybe three weeks into it, maybe around the end of April, he started swinging it like Kevin can. And he could be a difference maker in the lineup."

Graham certainly was Saturday against Auburn, helping Ole Miss advance to a winner's bracket test against another SEC foe in Arkansas Monday at 7 p.m. ET in a game that will be televised on ESPN. Both Graham's double in the first inning and his homer in the third came with two outs vs. the Tigers. 

"It's just sticking to your approach. But that's something we've emphasized since I got here, is getting that big two-out hit," Graham said. "With two outs, even with nobody on, there's a lot of inning left. So just keep grinding out at-bats and winning pitches. And those two-out runs can be huge. They can be back-breakers"

They can give you temporary bragging rights back home in the apartment, too.