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No. 18 Diamond Rebels close the door on No. 2 Vandy to win series

No. 18 Diamond Rebels close the door on No. 2 Vandy to win series

Ole Miss defeats Vanderbilt 13-10 to win rubber game

OXFORD, Miss. — No. 18 Ole Miss (36-15, SEC 16-11) sent a resounding statement to the NCAA postseason selection committee this past weekend as the Rebs won two of the three games against No. 2 Vanderbilt (36-12, SEC 17-9) in what was the final SEC match-up of the regular season at Swayze Field.

The Diamond Rebels had to stare adversity in the face to find success this weekend, and after watching ace Gunnar Hoglund go down to a season-ending injury last weekend, they did just that.

Game One Summary: Ole Miss 3, Vandy 1

In game one, starting pitcher Doug Nikhazy returned to the Friday night role as he faced a monumental task attempting to out-duel Vandy’s ace Kumar Rocker. 

Rocker would enter the game with an 11-1 record, along with a fastball that has been clocked at 99 mph, but his velocity never touched that speed in the opening game of the series.

The Rebels had an aggressive strategy coming into the game as they were swinging first and asking questions later.That aggressiveness paid off in the second inning as the Diamond Rebs drew first blood when freshman center fielder T.J. McCants blasted a two-run dinger into the student section in right field that scored third baseman Justin Bench.

In the third inning, left fielder Kevin Graham would add a home run of his own as he watched it disappear over the students in right as the beer showers rained down.

Vanderbilt batters were held scoreless by a masterful performance from Nikhazy until their lone run came off of a solo home run from right fielder Isaiah Thomas. 

After 7.0 innings of work in front of a crowd of 8,986, Doug Nikhazy had held Vandy batters to just one run on five hits while striking out 10 on the night. After Nikhazy’s performance, closer Taylor Broadway entered the game and allowed only one more hit to secure the 3-1 victory for the Red and Blue.

Game Two Summary: Ole Miss 1, Vandy 13

Saturday brought with it different stars and a different outcome as Vanderbilt’s hitters found their sweet spot. 

After cruising through first inning, Derek Diamond threw a pitch that was directly in right fielder Isaiah Thomas’ wheelhouse and he punched it over the wall in left-centerfield. 

A crowd of 10,267 would see Diamond have a rough day, although many of his pitches were not errant.  Instead, as a testament to Vanderbilt’s No. 2 ranking, batters such as Thomas and first baseman Dominic Keegan – who notched two hits and one home run – just muscled up and lifted their pitches over the outfield wall. 

For Ole Miss offensively, the story was more about Vandy’s starting pitcher Jack Leiter than anything else.

Leiter, whose start was in question until announced by Corbin late Thursday night, pitched a marvelous game. He worked his fastball that stayed in the upper 90s most of the game in and around all quadrants of the zone. The performance wowed the crowd as he was able to work his breaking balls and offspeed pitches just as well as his heater. 

Leiter held Ole Miss to only one run on five hits in the game. The Rebs would end the game using three members of the bullpen in a 13-1 losing effort.

Game Three Summary: Ole Miss 13, Vandy 10

The rubber match of the Vandy series would welcome another near-capacity crowd as Drew McDaniel and Vandy’s Patrick Reilly squared off against each other. 

The ‘Dores would be the first to strike in the game as Keegan hit a two-RBI single to center field in the top of the third, but the Rebel fans would not have to wait long for an answer from their team. In the bottom of third, Ole Miss third baseman Justin Bench would knock home the first two runs of the game and help to unleash a 10-run onslaught by the Diamond Rebs. 

After Bench’s double, Dunhurst added a double of his own down the right field line to push two more runs across. After a wild pitch that brought Dunhurst home, first baseman Cael Baker would come to the plate and go yard over the Vandy bullpen.

Shortstop Jacob Gonzalez would close out the inning by hitting a two-RBI homer of his own to ultimately make the score 10-2 in favor of the home team. 

The Commodore bats would not sit idle long as second baseman Tate Kolwyck would answer the call and begin the top of the fourth with a single through the left side of the infield. 

After Kolwyck’s single, he was followed by Vandy shortstop Carter Young’s grand slam to bring the score to 10-7, Rebels.  

In the fifth, Ole Miss added the winning run when T.J. McCants scored off of a Gonzalez single, and the Rebs never looked back. 

Catcher Hayden Dunhurst would add a towering home run in the sixth and admire his work as he casually watched it disappear into yet another round of showers for the students in right. 

Although Vanderbilt would add three more runs in the game, they would not surpass the Rebel lead as the Ole Miss bullpen sealed a 13-10 win with strong performances from Jackson Kimbrell, Jack Dougherty, and closer Taylor Broadway.

Analysis

The Diamond Rebs did exactly what was required of them by coming out of the gate in game one swinging. The aggressive strategy at the plate was the only way they could take the series over two outstanding pitching performances by Vanderbilt’s Rocker and Leiter. 

Ole Miss has a team that looks fastball first, and they had to have a bit of luck on their side as well. Rocker did not have a bad day as some might try to suggest. Although he didn’t have his scorching velocity that he has shown over his career, he pitched well. The Rebels simply had an excellent game plan, and they executed it perfectly. 

Doug Day paves the way for series win

The real story of game one is Doug Nikhazy’s performance. Nikhazy executed his pitches with precision, and his curveball was almost un-hittable.  As is the case with Doug, he gained momentum early in the game, and it snowballed to help the Rebs win the game and ultimately the series versus Vanderbilt. 

Game two was a bit more of the other way around. Jack Leiter was the standout and he, not unlike Doug on Friday, was strong enough to hold the Rebels to only one run on the game. Leiter clearly had control of the game from the opening pitch until his last pitch in the sixth inning. Leiter’s performance along with Vanderbilt’s ability to use its strength to hit well-placed pitches are what led to the loss. 

Game three was nothing short of elite offenses duking it out over nine innings of play. Middle relief on Sunday was considerably better than it has been over the course of the season, especially considering that this was one of the best offenses that the Rebels have gone against head-to-head. 

Rebels’ pitcher Jackson Kimbrell got the decision on 3.2 innings of work. He allowed just two runs on three hits and walked only one.

Dougherty also pitched well, striking out two of the three batters he faced. Broadway was just as strong as he has been all year long. He used his slider to start out the top of the ninth inning, but he went back to his 94 mph fastball to power through the last two batters of the game.

Looking ahead

The series win over Vandy at home was a priority as the Rebs prepare for UT-Martin before they travel to Athens to play Georgia in a series that begins Thursday. 

The field of 20 potential NCAA Regional sites was released this week and included Oxford on that list.  To lock up a host spot, some believe Ole Miss needs to win three of its last four games to make the list of the final 16 sites that will be named May 30. If they don’t win three of their last four, Ole Miss may have to make an appearance on Thursday or Friday at the SEC Tournament in Hoover to lock up that host position.

This team has overcome many obstacles thus far, and you can bet they’ll keep fighting to close out the season.

Tuesday night’s game against UT-Martin is set for 6:30 pm on SEC+

Hotty Toddy!

(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy)

About The Author

Chad Smith

Chad holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Ole Miss and stays immersed in Rebel sports and alumni affairs. As a second-generation Rebel, he loves everything that makes the university unique and appealing. While he supports every sport on campus, his primary love is Ole Miss Baseball. As a baseball scout and creator of the only group dedicated to Ole Miss Baseball, Chad enjoys focusing on the players’ and the team's success on and off the field. The unique atmosphere created by the fans, facilities and coaching staff has transformed Swayze Field into a world-class program that others only dream of having. Chad currently lives in Lula, Georgia with his wife Danielle, his German Short-Haired Pointer Renegade "Hotty Toddy," and a cat named Boudreaux.

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