Ole Miss opened up the SEC Tournament against Auburn, a team they were already 3-0 against in 2021. They picked up another win over the Tigers and moved onto the double elimination portion of the tournament. After a hard-fought battle, and a lead in the 9th inning, Ole Miss got walked off by Vanderbilt. This marked the first lead blown in the 8th inning or later for the DiamondRebs since the 2019 SEC Tournament Championship. That game was also against Vanderbilt.
Tuesday’s opening game against Auburn was clearly a must win because Bianco opted to use his golden bullet, Doug Nikhazy. Doug was as good as advertised as he improved to 9-2 on the season. He allowed a HR on the second pitch of the game but settled in for 6 innings of 2-run ball. Seeing as he got pulled after 6 innings and shy of 100 pitches might mean Bianco expects to use him again later in the week.
For Ole Miss to use Doug again, some of the other pitchers will need to step up and win another game or 2. After Brandon Johnson allowed 2 runs in just 0.2 innings of relief work, however, it doesn’t look like he will be the one to carry Ole Miss to another win. Taylor Broadway was forced to come in and attempt a 7 out save to push the Rebs into the next round. Broadway faced 1 more than the minimum and picked up save number 13 on the season.
Jacob Gonzalez led the way with a 4-5 day at the plate, but there was plenty to love up and down the lineup. Peyton Chatagnier and Hayden Dunhurst each contributed 2 RBI while 7 different Rebels crossed the plate to score a run. The Rebels plated 4 of their runs in the 3rd inning (while also leaving the bases loaded), but the 2-run insurance HR from Dunhurst in the bottom of the 7th put the icing on the cake.
Ole Miss truly dominated Auburn this season with a 4-0 record. Before Wednesday’s game against the Commodores, the Rebels were sitting at 2-1 against Vandy and looking to improve that further. Derek Diamond was called on to start the game against a top 3 team in the country, and he looked in control.
Diamond earned 2 runs in 5.1 innings and may have been pulled a little too early. He left the game after 88 pitches and a runner on first but could very well have induced a ground ball double play and gotten out of the inning. With the bullpen as shaky as it has been, and Broadway shut down after an extended outing against Auburn, Bianco should have let Diamond try to work his way through the 6th. Instead, Jackson Kimbrell entered the game and allowed 3 straight hits.
Jack Dougherty was called on to protect the newly acquired lead in the 6th, but he allowed one of his inherited runners to score before finishing the inning. After a clean 7th and a clean 8th, Bianco trotted the freshman back out for the 9th with a 1 run lead. Unfortunately, a bloop single started the inning and became the tying run. After recording just 1 out in the inning, Vandy was able to get to Dougherty and walked it off against a freshman who battled hard in a long, stressful outing.
The Rebel offense was carried solely by the man, myth, and legend: Tim Elko. Elko muscled up a 3-run blast in the 6th to take the lead before the bullpen implosion allowed the game to be tied back up a few minutes later. Elko then dropped a solo bomb on Vandy in the 8th to take a 1-run lead late in the game. The man with the torn ACL doesn’t have to worry about running the bases if he keeps knocking the ball over the wall. Elko went 3-4 in the game and is giving the selection committee a reason to put Ole Miss in the top 16.
After the loss, the Rebels will have to take on Georgia in an elimination game Thursday afternoon. Drew McDaniel will get the ball for the Rebels and will hopefully fare much better than he did in his last meeting with the Bulldogs just a few days ago. One more win would absolutely solidify a top 16 national seed, but with South Carolina’s early exit from the tournament and Elko proving he’s all the way back, that spot might already be set in stone.