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Nikhayz outduels Rocker as No. 18 Ole Miss defeats No. 2 Vanderbilt in series opener

Doug Nikhazy and Kumar Rocker did not disappoint.

The two aces were dominant on the mound but Nikhazy got the better of Kumar as No. 18 Ole Miss defeated No. 2 Vanderbilt 3-1 in the Southeastern Conference series opener at Oxford-University Stadium on Friday.

With Gunnar Hoglund out for the season with a UCL tear, Nikhazy became Friday starter in the weekend rotation once again. The left-hander pitched seven innings, giving up a run off five hits while striking out 10 and walking two Commodore batters.

“I was trying to treat it like any start and I think that mentality kind of helped me get through a couple of those innings,” Nikhazy said. “Adrenaline can get kind of high for me so I was trying to mellow out and stay even keel, which is not typically me.”

The long ball was the answer to getting to Rocker for the Rebels (35-14, 15-10 SEC) with all three runs coming from home runs. TJ McCants hit his fifth home run of the season, with a two-run shot to right field.  Kevin Graham hit his team-leading 11th home run with a deep shot to right field in the bottom of the third inning.

Rocker picked up his second loss of the season, falling to 11-2. He went seven innings, giving up the three runs off five hits and struck out eight Rebel batter while walking another.

“The approach, or the hope was, that the slider is basically un-hittable so we can’t hit that. We can’t go for that,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco on their plan against Rocker. “We need to try to lay off that and not get back swings and swings an missed. We need to attack the fastball. I thought early on the guys executed it and the plan was spot on.”

Vanderbilt (35-12, 16-8) also used the long ball to score their lone run. Rightfielder Isaiah Thomas hit a solo home run in the top of the seventh inning off of Nikhazy, who then retired the next three batters to keep the deficit at two runs.

Taylor Broadway worked two innings of relief to get his 10th save of the season. He gave up one hit and struck out two.

Ole Miss will try and go for the series win on Saturday with Derek Diamond facing Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter. First pitch set for 4 p.m. CT.