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Doug Nikhazy outduels Kumar Rocker on “Doug Day” in 3-1 win over Vandy

Doug Nikhazy outduels Kumar Rocker on “Doug Day” in 3-1 win over Vandy

OXFORD, Miss. – Game one of the “must-win” series, from an NCAA Regional hosting perspective, brought No. 2 Vanderbilt (35-11, 16-8 SEC) to the friendly confines of Swayze Field to do battle with No. 14 Ole Miss (35-14, 15-10 SEC). The Rebels emerged victorious, earning a 3-1 win over the Commodores. 

(Click here for box score.)

This is a series that had been circled on the calendar since its release, largely because it offered the possibly of featuring three potential first round draft picks in pitchers Kumar Rocker, Jack Leiter and Gunnar Hoglund, plus high touted junior Doug Nikhazy who is also projected to go high in the 2021 MLB baseball draft.  

Unfortunately, Hoglund is out for the season after receiving results from an MRI Monday that revealed a torn UCL. He will have “Tommy John” surgery on Tuesday, May 18.  To say he’ll be missed is an understatement.  The junior ranked No. 5 in strikeouts nationally and No. 3 in the conference in strikeouts, No. 4 in the SEC in both strikeouts per nine innings and walks and hits per inning pitched. Gunnar finishes the year with a record of four wins and two losses.

Doug Day at Swayze

Nikhazy, who started the year on Friday nights but moved to Saturdays after his return from a pectoral muscle strain, slid back into the Friday night role after Hoglund went down earlier in the week.  

As is often the case, “Doug Day” was again special.  Headlined by his 10 strikeouts, Nikhazy went seven strong innings, allowed a single run on five hits and just two walks.  

The fastball was a difference-maker for me, working both sides of the plate, able to move it up and down.

Doug Nikhazy

While Nikhazy worked in and out of trouble throughout the game, he did not allow the Commodores’ lone run in the game until the seventh inning.  

As for starting a day early this week, it didn’t seem to bother Nikhazy. “I just tried to treat it like any other start,” he said. “That mentality was what helped me get through a couple of those innings where adrenaline can get kind of high for me.”

Doug commented on his performance and the shift from Saturday to Friday. “Pretty seamless,” he said. “I think it’s good I went in there and at least set a good example for the guys coming up,” he added.

The “guys coming up” include Derek Diamond Saturday and Drew McDaniel Sunday.

With the win over Vanderbilt, Nikhazy improves to 7-2 for the season.  

His teammates were obviously impressed with the performance. “Watching him go out there and compete every single pitch, it’s really something big for the guys, for the freshmen like me and Jacob (Gonzalez) to look up to someone like him who goes out there and competes every single day,” said center fielder T.J. McCants.

Really huge having him in our pitching rotation. He does a great job every time he goes out there and performs. When he steps on the mound, I have complete confidence.

T.J. McCants on Doug Nikhazy

The players aren’t the only ones who know they can rely on Doug. 

“To have a guy step in, especially when you’re playing a team the caliber of Vanderbilt and facing Kumar, I thought that was huge mentally for us,” said head coach Mike Bianco.

The guys knew they could count on Doug. They could count on a great performance. Certainly he delivered.

Mike Bianco on Doug Nikhazy

Rebs against Rocker

While Rocker had a solid outing, the Rebels were not without some success against the potential top 5 draft pick in June.  Center fielder McCants got the students in right field excited with a two-run home run in the second inning. 

McCants deposited a Rocker fastball into the student section to score Justin Bench. Bench had reached on a hit by pitch — a category he leads the conference in with 20 HBPs.  

“(I have) the same approach every time I step to the plate — attack the fastball, adjust to the offspeed, and just get a pitch I can hit,” McCants said after the game when asked about his home run.

The freshman is having an award-winning performance as we near the end of the season. He’s sitting at a .349 overall batting average and has hit six home runs, two triples, eight doubles while notching 51 hits.  

His head coach certainly appreciates all McCants has accomplished thus far. “The kid doesn’t flinch . . . he doesn’t let one at bat run into the next, he doesn’t let one bad game run into the next. I think that’s why he’s had so much success,” said Bianco.

Ole Miss would extend the lead to three with one swing of the bat from Kevin Graham in the third inning. Graham contributed his team-leading 11th home run of the season by powering another Rocker fastball into the right-field berm seating. It was calculated at 407 feet, coming off the bat at 108.2 miles per hour.

Graham leads the Rebels with a season batting average of .355. In the postgame presser, Bianco applauded Graham’s performance this year in handling left-handed pitchers as well as the breaking ball.

Broadway Time

Doug would give way in the eighth inning to Ole Miss closer Taylor Broadway, who allowed no runs on just one hit. He left a leadoff double, who eventually stop third, stranding him after recording two strikeouts and a round out to first.

The ‘Dores went quietly in the ninth with two ground outs and fly out to John-Rhys Plumlee in right to end the game.  

For his efforts, Broadway recorded his 10th save of the season. After the game, Bianco discussed the outing from his closer. “He’s terrific. One of the things that makes him special is he can with with his fastball, he can win with his breaking ball,” he explained. “Tonight he threw some really excellent sliders. He mixed three different pitches tonight,” Bianco added.

“He’s a superstar and we wouldn’t be where we are without him,” Bianco said of Broadway.

Beardless Bianco

Interesting Note – Coach Bianco is now “beardless,” saying after serving his suspension Wednesday he needed a “clean slate” and has gone “back to normal face.”

Quick Hits

  • The Rebels move to 35-14 overall, 15-10 in SEC play.
  • Ole Miss moves to 67-60-2 all-time against Vanderbilt.
  • The Rebels are now 13-6 against ranked opponents this season, including 9-4 against the top 10 and 4-4 against foes ranked in the top three.
  • Kevin Graham extended his on-base streak to 42 consecutive games, reaching in 47 of 49 games this season.
  • Justin Bench was hit by pitch for an SEC-leading 20th time this season during the second inning, ranking No. 3 in the nation. Bench leads all of Power 5 in HBP.
  • TJ McCants hit his fifth home run of the season in the second inning. He is one of six Rebels with five or more home runs.
  • Kevin Graham’s home run (417 feet, 108.2 MPH) took a team lead with his 11th HR of the season.
  • Doug Nikhazy had his fifth outing with 10-plus K’s this season and his seventh outing with nine or more.

(Quick Hits are courtesy of Ole Miss Baseball)

What’s Next for Ole Miss?

The Rebels and Commodores return to action on Swing Day, Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Derek Diamond (3-3 overall, 1.38 ERA, 15 strikeouts, and three walks over 13 innings pitched in his last four appearances) will face off against Jack Leiter (7-2). 

Hotty Toddy!

(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)

About The Author

Chris Muller

Chris is our Director of Baseball Content and Senior Baseball Writer. Muller is a 1995 Graduate of Ole Miss. He is a collegiate recreational sports professional currently residing in Arlington Texas with his wife of 24 years, Amber, and German Shorthaired Pointer, Sophie. Chris is an avid Ole Miss Baseball and Football fan. His hobbies include watching college football and baseball and playing poker with his friends.

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