Ole Miss kicked off their Super Regional on Friday night. Bianco puled a switch-a-roo with the rotation and gave Derek Diamond the start. While his outing wasn’t enough to take a series lead, it set up Doug Nikhazy for Saturday. With the season on the line, Doug Day once again proved to be Dub Day. The series is now tied up with Game 3 set to be played Sunday at 8 PM Central. Winner heads to Omaha, loser gets to start their summer.
Starting Diamond for Game 1 has a few benefits. Everybody knows Doug is going to win no matter what, so if he pitches Game 2 the Rebels would either win the series or steal back the momentum. Another reason to start Diamond is to give Nikhazy an extra day of rest. He pitched out of the bullpen on short rest in the Oxford Regional Final, so to get the most out of Doug he needed to be an extra day fresher.
Diamond pitched better in Game 1 than he had in a handful of other outings this season. Playing against a team with as much offensive firepower as Arizona means that some runs will inevitably be given up, but he only lasted 4 innings and allowed 4 runs on 8 hits. The longball ruined his evening. Despite being given an early lead, Diamond gave up 3 bombs in total. Arizona only managed solo shots off of him, but those add up. This is a large ballpark. For somebody to hit a homerun, they have to really crush it. A move wasn’t made to pull Diamond out until the lead off man in the 5th got on and it was apparent that Zona was seeing the ball well out of his hand.
Tyler Myers took over for Diamond and did everything he could to keep the game close. He allowed an inherited runner to score before letting up 5 runs of his own. 3 of those runs came on a bases clearing double in the bottom of the 8th.
If he had gotten that final batter out, he would have finished the 8th inning with 2 earned runs in a 6-3 ball game. Unfortunately, however, his stat line does not look as impactful as it was for Ole Miss. With the bats completely frozen and unable to amount a single hit against the Arizona bullpen, Myers ate up innings to keep his teammates fresh for the rest of the weekend.
Brandon Johnson had to be called on when Myers ran out of gas. He threw 3 pitches to record the final out in the 8th. The offense was unable to mount a comeback in the top of the 9th, so he essentially threw more warm-up pitches than real pitches.
Offensively, Ole Miss put pressure on the Wildcats early. Jacob Gonzalez led the game off with a double followed by 2 quick outs. When Elko tried to dig in with 2 away, he was issued an intentional walk. The bar for highest level of respect has just been raised. Elko was walked intentionally, despite having just 1 ACL and there being 2 outs, in the 1st inning by the ace of the #5 team in the country’s pitching staff.
After a double by Justin Bench and a base knock from TJ McCants, Elko scored anyway. They could have let him hit a homerun and the score would be the same. When the top of the 1st inning was over, Ole Miss had picked up a 3-0 lead and confidence was high.
The Rebel bats froze over after the 1st inning. They had 3 hits the rest of the way (0 hits against the bullpen), left 6 runners on base, and only had 2 players make it into scoring position (both of which advanced to 2nd on a walk). It would not have mattered how Diamond pitched. Anything short of a Nikhazy style outing would have lost this game.
Game 2 was a different story.
In Game 2, Doug Nikhazy showed the nation why he was voted 1st team All-American. He had 10 Ks and 2 earned runs in 5.1 innings pitched. He threw 121 pitches. The Arizona mentality was obvious; make Doug throw more pitches. The Wildcats fouled off tons of pitches and shortened the Ole Miss ace’s day. He left in a 12-2 ballgame and allowed the bullpen to pitch in low stress mode.
By bullpen, I really mean Austin Miller. He lasted all 3.2 innings after Doug’s exit and allowed just 1 run. Miller had a clutch performance. By finishing this game off himself, he sets Ole Miss up with a plethora of arms available in Game 3. Not having Gunnar Hoglund anymore due to injury hurts badly in a series, but that pain is lessened when the relief pitcher puts the entire pen on his back in consecutive games. Kudos to Myers and Miller for eating innings and keeping everybody else fresh for the Supers Finale.
Ole Miss smacked the ball all over the yard in this one. Gonzo led the game off with a solo shot. That was the only scoring in the 1st, but the 2nd inning was where the bats caught fire. The Rebs sent 10 men to the plate in the inning. They had 6 runs on 6 hits which included an RBI infield single for JRP. A hit that did not seem wildly important at the time ended up being significant to extending a long rally. Gonzo ripped a 2 RBI double after the Plumlee knock and Peyton Chatagnier rocked a 2-run bomb to cap off the big inning.
In the bottom of the 4th and 5th innings, Ole Miss used some small ball to plate a few more runs. A wild pitch in the 4th, followed by a sac fly and a single plated 3 runs. A sac fly and a single plated 2 more in the 5th. Kevin Graham, Jacob Gonzalez, and Hayden Dunhurst all boasted 3 hit games. Elko, who was intentionally walked and then promptly figured out in Game 1, went 2-4 with an RBI in Game 2.
The DiamondRebs have played their best ball when their backs’ have been up against the wall. Game 3 is looming Sunday night and it will be another do or die situation. If Ole Miss can keep the offense rolling, Omaha is theirs for the taking. Even if the bats struggle, Dougherty and Broadway will be impossible to score crooked numbers off of.
With the season on the line one more time, and the clubhouse favorite Doug Nikhazy in spitting distance of Lance Lynn’s single season K record, Ole Miss should come out with a 110% effort. If this is the last game with this group of Rebs, it was a hell of a ride. Unfortunately for Arizona, it is going to be next to impossible to make this the last Ole Miss game of 2021.