Ole Miss Drops Opening Game of Series with UCF, 3-2
OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss was looking for blackjack, but busted. The Rebels’ 21st consecutive win was not to be as Central Florida took a 3-2 win at Swayze Field.
The 20-game win streak is the longest in program history.
Ole Miss attempted to rally in the ninth inning trailing by two runs. With two outs, Hayden Dunhurst hit a solo home run to left field to pull the Rebels to within one, and Cael Baker was then hit by a pitch to put the tying run on first base. But UCF killed the rally and seal the game by striking out Hayden Leatherwood.
Doug Nikhazy pitched 6 1/3 innings of strong baseball, giving up just three hits. Unfortunately, two of the hits left the ballpark. Nikhazy struck out ten in the game.
Justin Bench and Dunhurst each went 2-for-4 in the game.
The Rebels did not get a hit until the third inning when Leatherwood singled up the middle, but Garrett Wood followed with a bouncer up the middle that UCF was able to turn into a double play. The second hit came from the next batter, Justin Bench. He popped one up behind first base and it fell between three Knights for a single. Bench then stole second base on a close play as the throw beat him to the bag, but shortstop Alex Freeland’s swipe tag missed him, and he got in safely to give Ole Miss a runner in scoring position. The Rebs then grounded out to second to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, Ole Miss got back-to-back two-out singles from Ben Van Cleve and Dunhurst, and Cael Baker hit a 3-2 pitch into center field to score Van Cleve and move Dunhurst to third, giving Ole Miss a 1-0 lead. Hayden Leatherwood grounded to the shortstop to end the inning.
UCF tied the game in the top of the seventh inning when Jordan Rathbone led off the inning and got a pitch he could handle and deposited it into the Ole Miss bullpen to even the score, 1-1. The Knights took the lead when Josh Crouch drilled a homer to left center. UCF then had a 2-1 edge and it ended Nikhazy’s day.
The Knights added a run in the ninth on a throwing error by Taylor Broadway. It could have been worse, but Broadway cut down Ben McCabe at the plate as he tried to score on a safety squeeze bunt to keep the deficit at two runs. The unearned run was costly, however, as Ole Miss scored one run in the ninth.
Ole Miss will attempt to start a new winning streak as UCF returns to play game two of the three-game series. Bench, for one, expects the Rebels to come out swinging in game two.
Bench: "We have an unbelievable offense. We're going to keep coming out and keep swinging it. He's a great pitcher and threw well. Credit to him."
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) February 27, 2021
After the game, Nikhazy was asked about the message from the coaches after the loss. “The message is really just that we didn’t think we were going to go 56-0, or whatever it is,” he explained.
“Nobody is going to remember this day if we go where we think we will go in July.”
First pitch in Game Two Saturday is set for 1:30 pm.