Rebels drop series to State, 2-1, in Starkville
Mississippi was again the focus of the college baseball world this past weekend as Ole Miss traveled to Starkville for the Rebels’ toughest road test thus far. The Rebs ventured into enemy territory for a three-game series that capped one of the most challenging stretches in the best college baseball conference in the country, and while the weekend ended with Ole Miss dropping two of three games to arch-rival Mississippi State, there were several positives to draw on in the series.
Game 1: Ole Miss 2, Mississippi State 5
The new Dudy-Noble Field played host to arch-rivals Ole Miss and Mississippi State Friday. Ole Miss entered the opening game of the series and started RHP Gunnar Hoglund on the mound.
Hoglund pitched a strong outing in his role as the Friday night starter, delivering a seven-inning appearance that saw only three runs on four hits allowed and no walks.
Gunnar’s numbers were good enough to win the day on most Friday’s, but at the top of the SEC the difference between winning and losing a game can come down to a mere two or three pitches.
On Friday, MSU starter Christian MacLeod, with the help of Preston Johnson and closer Landon Sims, found a way to limit the Rebels’ offensive scoring to just one run in the third and one run in the fourth inning. The Rebs were led by Hayden Dunhurst who turned in a two-hit performance as Ole Miss dropped the first game of the series, 5-2, before a crowd of 10,291.
Game 2: Ole Miss 9, State 0
On Saturday, LHP Doug Nikhazy would start on the mound for the Rebels before another enormous crowd gathered in Starkville — and he made the most of his opportunity.
🔥 9 IP
🔥 12 K
🔥 1 H
🔥 Win vs. State
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 17, 2021
Nikhazy delivered his most outstanding performance of the year against the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs. Doug is at his best when he works his fastball up and down the zone and when he can get his dramatic curveball across for called strikes. He attacked the zone and, as is customary for him, worked downhill. Nikhazy, who notched a complete-game, one-hit shutout, also received plenty of run support from the Rebel offense as well.
Before an overflow crowd of over 13,000 fans, the Rebs scored in six of their nine innings with extra-base hits coming from Jacob Gonzales, Dunhurst, Cael Baker, Ben Van Cleve, T.J. McCants, and including a home run off the bat of Hayden Leatherwood.
Game 3: Ole Miss 5, State 7
Rebel sophomore Drew McDaniel took the mound as a starter Sunday, his second in league play. He delivered a beautiful body of work as he continued to minimize walks on the weekend by an Ole Miss pitching staff that issued 17 free passes in its series loss to No. 1 Arkansas just a week before. In 5.1 innings of work, McDaniel only allowed two runs on three hits.
After McDaniel left the game, after throwing 91 total pitches on the day, freshman Josh Mallitz took the mound and allowed three singles before head coach Mike Bianco would send Austin Miller into the game.
Miller would go on to allow two Mississippi State batters to reach on singles, himself, and then Taylor Broadway was called in early from his regular closer role, promptly facing Tanner Allen who served up a fastball that caught too much of the plate. Allen would go on to record a bases-clearing triple that would ultimately seal the Rebels’ fate as they would fall 7-5 to the Bulldogs.
Hayden Leatherwood led the Rebel offense as he hit two home runs into the stands and notched three RBI. Justin Bench and Ben Van Cleve each tallied a double in the contest.
HAVE YOURSELF A WEEKEND, HAYDEN! 🤯
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) April 18, 2021
This series loss featured two very evenly-matched teams who each expect to be competing for the Top 8 National seeds in college baseball this year. The Rebels again won the overall hits statistic for the weekend but did fail to score in the latter half of games one and three.
The pitching staff was also very efficient — and at times dominant — until the sixth inning of game three. The Rebs must put it back together and figure out how best to use the past three series losses to top 10 teams to their advantage.
One of the areas that was lacking in this series was more production from the top of the lineup card. While the lower part of the lineup is seeing improvement from Cael Baker and Leatherwood, the Rebels will need to rely on consistent production from Peyton Chatagnier and Kevin Graham to be successful in the second half of the SEC schedule.
Ole Miss hosts Arkansas-Little Rock at Swayze Field on Tuesday night at 6:30 pm.
(Feature image credit: David Perry, The Rebel Walk)