• 55°

Doug Nikhazy shines, Ole Miss hits three more bombs to advance to championship round

OXFORD – The final scores may look a bit different, but Ole Miss has played two strikingly similar games to open the Oxford Regional. Beating Clemson 6-1 on Saturday night, they’ve won both regional games in decisive fashion behind dominant outings from their starting pitchers and a string of timely home runs.

Despite hitting three long balls Saturday, the story is about Doug Nikhazy. He’s had himself a lot of impressive Saturday starts this year, but his first appearance at a regional on Saturday night may have been better than them all. The young lefthander started off hot, striking out the side to start his night, and never really let up.

Pitching eight full innings for his second straight start, Nikhazy was electric. For the third time all year, he threw over 110 pitches. He struck out nine batters, allowing just four hits and one run in the process.

Nikhazy now has consecutive starts where he’s gone eight innings and given up one total run in the process.

“The game really sort of flew by for me,” Nikhazy said. “After I got through those hard innings I just started to enjoy it and just take it in. That was a once in a lifetime experience with that crowd.”

That crowd was an announced attendance of over 10,000 fans, a fantastic Swayze Field experience for a regional setting.

Where his counterpart Will Ethridge put away 20 straight batters on Friday night, Nikhazy did his best to match, putting away 18 of the first 20 batters he faced. Things got a little dicey for Nikhazy in the seventh. He allowed back-to-back hits to start the inning before getting the third batter to ground into a run-scoring double play. Clemson would get just one back in the inning that he worked out of masterfully.

“Doug, as you saw, was fantastic for eight-plus innings against a really, really good offense,” said head coach Mike Bianco.

Ole Miss decided to trot Nikhazy out to start the ninth before replacing him with Parker Caracci after he gave up a leadoff walk. Caracci did as he’s done of late, working seamlessly through the next three batters for the Ole Miss win.

While the Rebels got a whole lot from Doug Nikhazy on the mound, they have started hitting home runs. Ole Miss hit three more tonight after hitting three yesterday. In back-to-back at bats in the second inning, Cole Zabowski and Cooper Johnson both hit solo shot home runs of their own. In the eighth, it was Kevin Graham getting in on the action with a pinch-hit dinger, his tenth in his freshman season. In two games of the Oxford Regional, that’s now six Rebel homers.

“I thought it was just a great approach by our hitters,” Bianco said. “And besides the home runs were the outstanding at-bats where we continued to increase the lead… every other inning we were able to add on and just keep them at arms length.”

The three total runs in the second accounted for half of the Ole Miss runs, but they would also score one a piece in the fourth, sixth and eighth inning. They never went back-to-back innings without scoring at least one run and seven different Rebels recorded a hit.

Through two games in Oxford, Ole Miss has really had every single thing going for them. They’ve gotten consecutive masterful starts on the mound and are getting offensive contribution from even unexpected sources. Tim Elko, a righty getting the start against a left-hander in Clemson’s lefty Mat Clark, had his best day in a long time, reinforcing Bianco’s decision to put him in the lineup. Elko reached base in three of four at-bats, drawing two walks in the process.

With the win, Ole Miss gets a massive leg up in the Oxford Regional and are only one win away from reaching their first super since 2014. Clemson and Jacksonville State will play tomorrow afternoon in an elimination game. The winner will have to play Ole Miss later on Sunday night at 8 p.m. In a theoretical world where Clemson or Jacksonville State were to win the Oxford Regional, they would have to win both legs of a doubleheader on Sunday and then beat Ole Miss again on Monday night. The Rebels need just one more W.