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Ole Miss pitching staff returns to form in time for postseason push

The Ole Miss baseball team knows if it wants to find itself in Omaha and the College World Series for the first time in seven years, it will have to rely on the one group that has not been consistent for most of the year.

A shaky pitching staff down the final stretch of the regular season was the undoing for many of the Rebels would-have-been victories. That shaky bullpen found stability in Hoover, Alabama, last week during the Rebels’ run to the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Behind strong outings from Derek Diamond, Drew McDaniel and Tyler Myers, the Rebels regained some confidence in their arms and in turn providing a better outlook on their postseason chances as the Oxford Regional begins this weekend.

Following Doug Nikhazy’s start against Auburn in the first round of the SEC Tournament, Diamond provided a solid outing in what eventually became a losing effort against Vanderbilt in the second round.

In Thursday’s elimination game against Georgia, McDaniel threw 6.2 shutout innings with 11 strikeouts in the Rebels’ 4-0 win over the Bulldogs.

The surprise of the week came from Myers, who worked a career-high 7 innings in the Rebels’ rematch against Vanderbilt in another elimination game last Friday. The resurgence of the Rebels starting pitching behind Nikhazy was something that had been lacking.

“It’s very good for our team,” said shortstop Jacob Gonzalez during last week’s SEC Tournament. “They’ve shown that the playoffs aren’t too big for them. Even if they’ve struggled in their previous outings, they’re not going to back down. They’re going to keep pitching and just go out there and try to win.”

This bodes well for the Rebels in this weekend’s Oxford Regional, which started on Friday. With the newfound confidence in his pitching staff, head coach Mike Bianco made the decision to start Diamond in the Rebels’ regional opener against four seed Southeastern Missouri State. Bianco is holding Nikhazy for Saturday’s game in either the winner’s bracket or the loser’s bracket.

Starting Diamond over Nikhazy provides the Rebels with a chance to get to the highly coveted 2-0 start and a spot in the regional championship, forcing whoever comes out of the loser’s bracket to have to beat them twice.

“We talked about it a bunch this week with the staff to make the decision,” Bianco said on Wednesday.  “We want to win game one, no doubt about it, bu the goal is to win the regional and move on. We thought because of the matchups and looking at all three teams, this gives up the best opportunity to get through the first two games.”

By holding Nikhazy until Saturday, it provides the opportunity for Ole Miss to throw their ace against either Southern Mississippi or Florida State’s number two arm. Both the Golden Eagles and Seminoles elected to throw their aces in their opening game against each other on Friday.

The Rebels have seen a resurgence in its pitching staff, but will need to find a way to bring what they did in Alabama back to Oxford this weekend and beyond if they want to find themselves in Nebraska later this month.