Nikhazy’s gem helps send Ole Miss to Oxford Regional championship
The legends of Doug Nikhazy and Tim Elko continued to grow on Saturday.
In what could be considered the most important game of the Ole Miss baseball team’s season, its ace and captain came through when it mattered. The Rebels defeated Florida State 4-3 in the winner’s bracket game of the Oxford Regional, sending the number one seed to the championship round and a win away from the Super Regionals.
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco made the decision to hold Nikhazy until Saturday with Derek Diamond getting the start in the Rebels regional opener on Friday. The first half of the gamble paid off with Diamond getting the win over Southeastern Missouri State, but then turned it over to Nikhazy to complete the plan and give the Rebels the coveted 2-0 cushion.
Two weeks ago in Athens, Nikhazy set a new career high of strikeouts in a game with 13 against Georgia. On Saturday he set a new career mark and etched his name in the record books in the process with 16 strikeouts, tying for the most strikeouts in a game by a Rebel pitcher. The last Ole Miss pitcher to record 16 srikeouts was Drew Pomeranz during the 2009 Oxford Regional.
Nikhazy pitched seven innings, giving up three runs off four hits and walked only one Seminole batter. The three runs came off two home runs in the fifth inning. After the second home run, Nikhazy struck out seven of the last eight batters he faced.
“It’s in moments like that when you’re in the postseason and you start to think about how many chances you’re going to get to wear this jersey ever again,” Nikhazy said. “When we get in those moments like that, that’s when you just kind of flip a switch and everything changes and you just start looking at things differently.”
The Rebels (43-19) scored two runs in the first inning off a pair of Seminole errors to quickly go up 2-0, but Florida State pitcher Bryce Hubbart settled in from there. Rebel bats were unable to get to Hubbart again with him inducing multiple pop-ups.
After falling behind due to the two Florida State home runs, the magic of Elko showed up at seemingly the right moment. With two on and two outs in the seventh inning, Elko hit a ground ball to the Seminole shortstop, who overthrew to the first baseman and allowing Jacob Gonzalez and Cade Sammons to score and re-take the lead for good.
“(Elko) was flying” said outfielder Kevin Graham. “What a 90 (feet) he gave us there and we needed all of it.”
Florida State (31-23) will play Southern Mississippi in the second elimination game of the regional at 1 p.m. CT on Sunday. The Rebels will then play the winner in the Oxford Regional championship at 5 p.m. CT.
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