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Ole Miss Begins Season with Three of the Nation’s Best Pitchers

Ole Miss Begins Season with Three of the Nation’s Best Pitchers

OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco is probably not the best person to host a surprise party. At Friday’s Rebel baseball media day, the Ole Miss skipper revealed his projected starting rotation for the 2021 season which the Rebs will begin with a No. 4 ranking.

The announcement did not cause many jaws to drop.

“Starting off, we’ll talk about the rotation,” Bianco, who will begin his 21st year as the Rebels’ coach, said at the outset of the press conference. 

If we were to start today, we would start Doug Nikhazy on Friday, Gunnar Hoglund on Saturday and Derek Diamond on Sunday. I don’t think that’s a surprise to many of you, and it’s certainly not a surprise to us and people who have followed college baseball. One of the reasons I think expectations are so high right now, because we do return our entire rotation. But not only return the same three guys, but three guys who can really pitch it. I don’t know if we’ve ever had as solid a three guys to start the season. Where not only the expectations were high with the program but certainly of what they can do.

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco

Doug Nikhazy

Nikhazy, named a preseason All-American by Perfect Game, finished the shortened 2020 campaign 3-1 and struck out 31 batters in 23 innings.

Gunnar Hoglund

Hoglund, also recently named a preseason All-American by D1Baseball, was 3-0 while fanning a team-high 37 and only walking four. He finished 2020 with a 1.16 ERA.

At Friday’s presser, Coach Bianco went through Hoglund’s profession since his arrival as a freshman.

Nikhazy and Hoglund followed up their strong performances by being impressive during the fall workouts, while Diamond was held out of action due to injury.

“Gunnar and Doug pitched really well this fall and pitched like aces in the Southeastern Conference, which you would expect,” Bianco said. “Derek, as many of you know, didn’t pitch this fall in intrasquads.”

Derek Diamond

Diamond missed the fall with an injury that was not deemed serious, but he still was kept off the mound for precautionary reasons. He finished his freshman campaign in 2020 at 2-0 and went at least 5.0 IP in every single outing.

“(Diamond) injured himself this summer. It was one of those injuries where, although we call it ‘not serious,’ it’s one of those that takes a while to get over—a strain in his forearm in that flexor muscle that’s near the elbow,” Bianco said. 

The doctors just said take a lot of precaution and take it slow. We let him bat and play some outfield in the fall, but he rested a long time then really pitched in bullpens and some controlled scrimmages late in the fall and looked terrific and really has made some gains even in the times we’ve seen him at the end of the fall and this early spring in bullpens where his velocity has ticked up some. It was already in the low-90s last year. I believe his slider has improved from last year, which is something we wanted to work on and concentrate on to give him more of an out-pitch. And the changeup has improved. We’re excited about the progress.

Coach Bianco on Sunday pitcher Derek Diamond

Hayden Dunhurst likes what he sees

While Bianco is impressed with his weekend rotation, the Rebel with the best view of the trio is equally impressed.

“I think they all have their different unique things. You know, catching guys like that pretty much makes you realize they’re some of the best in the country and the nation and the world,” catcher Hayden Dunhurst said. 

Even when you’re catching bullpens during the week when they throw their bullpens, they’re throwing their fastballs 95 miles per hour, they’re throwing it from black to black, they’re throwing it from chest high to knee high on the strings every time and it’s really fun catching somebody that knows what they’re doing, knows how to pitch, knows where to locate all their pitches and really how to read batters and follow them so you know it’s unique in all ways.

Ole Miss catcher Hayden Dunhurst

The three starters will be tested early this season. Ole Miss opens the year at the State Farm College Baseball Showdown.

As it stands now, Nikhazy will get the start against No. 10 TCU Feb. 19, with Hoglund taking the mound against No. 3 Texas Tech and Diamond getting the ball versus No. 9 Texas.

(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)

About The Author

Steve Barnes

Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers. He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio. A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series. Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time. He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk. Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.

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