Diamond Rebels wrap-up: A look at the 2021 Ole Miss baseball season
OXFORD, Miss. – It’s been a little over a month now since the Rebels’ 2021 baseball season came to an end on a warm, desert night out in Tucson, Arizona. While Ole Miss fell one game short of reaching the College World Series, there is still much that can be celebrated.
It was a season of highs and lows that brought injuries and illnesses along the way. It was a season that saw wild Rebel comebacks and a few late-game heartbreaks. But it was also one where the Rebels proved their resiliency time and time again. They took punches but kept getting up off the mat to fight another day.
Let’s take a look back at the 2021 Ole Miss baseball season.
State Farm College Baseball Showdown
The season began in Arlington, Texas a day later than scheduled because of an extreme winter storm that brought much of the Southern part of the United States to its knees for the majority of a full week.
The preseason No. 4-ranked Rebels finally made it to Arlington to participate in the State Farm College Baseball Showdown, though they had to take a circuitous route because of weather. What a weekend it was!
On Saturday, the Rebels defeated the TCU Horned Frogs, 7-3. Texas Tech (ranked No. 3 in the nation at the time) came knocking Sunday with Ole Miss narrowly edging the Red Raiders, 5-4.
In the last game of the weekend for the Rebels, No. 9-ranked Texas fell soundly to Ole Miss, 8-1.
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) February 23, 2021
For the tournament, first baseman Cael Baker stayed in Oxford with what was assumed to be COVID, Taylor Broadway recorded his first save of the season, and we were introduced to freshman phenom Jacob Gonzalez at shortstop.
Against the Longhorns, second baseman Peyton Chatagnier hit a double but cruised into second grasping at his hamstring. Chatagnier, who for the weekend was 5-for-11 with three runs scored, three RBIs, and four doubles, was named SEC Co-Player of the Week.
Pitcher Max Cioffi who was expected to be a significant contributor in the bullpen notched one of his two outings of the season in Arlington. Following the series in Texas, Cioffi would have knee surgery to clean up his meniscus. After rehabbing the knee, he returned to face North Alabama — and later would find out he suffered a torn UCL following the appearance that would cause him to undergo Tommy John surgery.
No. 1 Ranking
The following Tuesday morning, the Rebels would wake up and find themselves the consensus No.1 team in the country, the first No. 1 ranking in program history.
YOUR OLE MISS REBELS ARE THE #1 TEAM IN COLLEGE BASEBALL!
The Rebs climbed atop the polls this week, following a sweep at the State Farm Showdown, where Ole Miss beat 3 Top-10 teams in 3 days! Check out @Jimmymann23 recap of the weekend's action! 🔴⚾️🔵https://t.co/XOOleWBCcq
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) February 23, 2021
With a mid-week victory over Arkansas State, the Rebels pushed their consecutive win streak to 20, a historical best for Ole Miss.
The Rebels stubbed their toe a bit during the second weekend, dropping a series at home to UCF, 2-1. In somewhat of a theme, Ole Miss would never fail to win at least one game every weekend, never falling victim to the sweep.
Star lefty junior Doug Nikhazy suffered one of only two losses of the 2021 campaign in the Friday night start against the Knights. Sophomore catcher Hayden Dunhurst, right fielder Hayden Leatherwood, first baseman Trey LaFleur, and center fielder Justin Bench all notched home runs in the series. Freshman TJ McCants started at second base in game three in place of the injured Chatagnier.
A five game stretch against Memphis, Jackson State and Belmont allowed the Rebels to get back on track. During that time period, the star of the week was the Rebels’ team captain Tim Elko. Elko tallied a truly remarkable week with five home runs, eight runs scored and a whopping 13 RBIs en route to going 10-for-17. He would be named SEC and National Player of the Week for his performance.
TWO TODAY. FIVE THIS WEEK.
We have your player of the week @SEC
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) March 7, 2021
A total of 52 runs were scored by the Rebel offense over the course of that week. In addition to the Elko firepower, Kevin Graham hit two bombs and Justin Bench stroked a homer over the weekend.
Louisiana – Monroe visited Oxford for the last weekend of non-conference play. Gunnar Hoglund had a standout weekend, striking out 14 Warhawks. Nikhazy missed his start during the series as a result of a strained pec minor muscle. The Rebel offense continued its onslaught with home runs by Elko (2), Graham (2), Dunhurst and Gonzalez.
Conference play begins
Conference play began when Auburn came calling March 19th. Chatagnier returned to the weekend lineup for the first time since the opening weekend in Texas, but Nikhazy missed his second start in a row with the same pec strain.
Friday night featured a pitchers’ duel with Hoglund narrowly defeating the Tigers, 1-0, off the bat of a pinch-hit home run from Calvin Harris. Following the weekend, Hoglund ranked first in the NCAA with 55 strikeouts on the season.
CALVIN HARRIS! Tied no longer!
Pinch-hit bomb, his first of the year, and it couldn't have come at a better time! #RebsBSB
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) March 20, 2021
Saturday’s game against Auburn saw the Rebels get out to a 6-2 lead before hanging on to win, 6-5. Star closer Taylor Broadway recorded his third save of the season. Sunday’s game was a throwback to SEC Sundays of yesteryear, as Ole Miss defeated the Tigers, 19-11, with a total of 14 runs scored between the two teams in the 8th inning.
McCants belted his first home run of his Rebel career against Auburn. It was the first opening-series SEC sweep for the Rebels since Vanderbilt in 2004.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) March 21, 2021
On the road vs. Alabama
The first road trip of the conference led the Rebels to Tuscaloosa. With inclement weather forecast for Thursday’s scheduled game, a double header was set for Friday.
The first game of the twin bill saw the Rebels come from behind in the 9th and score eight runs to power Ole Miss to victory. Tyler Myers got the win and Broadway closed the door for his fifth save. Chatagnier was a red hot 4-for-5.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) March 26, 2021
Game two featured the return of “Doug Day” when Nikhazy took the hill in his return from the pec strain. Nikhazy one-hit the Tide through five innings, and then gave way to Drew McDaniel for a scoreless 6th, 7th, and 8th.
Just Doug being Doug. Seven Ks through five!
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) March 27, 2021
Broadway held Alabama scoreless in the 9th to complete the sweep of the doubleheader. A McCants home run in the 5th and a Graham RBI-single in the 8th were all the Rebels would need offensively.
Game three of the series saw the Rebels pound out 13 hits and score 11 runs to cruise to an 11-6 victory and a 6-0 start in the SEC, their best start in conference since 1964. Derek Diamond recorded his third win of the year. After the weekend at Alabama, TJ McCants was named SEC Freshman of the Week.
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) March 29, 2021
Facing the Gators
In game one of the Florida series, the Rebel bats were held to four hits and Hoglund was dealt his first loss of the season.
Game two was the opposite of the Friday night affair as Ole Miss hammered out 11 hits and scored eight runs. Nikhazy was solid on the mound, delivering a two-hit, one-run performance; however, the win went to Drew McDaniel. Broadway earned his seventh save of the season when he struck out five of the six he faced, going two innings and allowing no runs and no hits.
The Rebels dropped the third game of the series for their first conference series loss of the year.
Against the Hogs
Bad weather in Oxford postponed the start of a three-game set against Arkansas, and moved the first two games to a doubleheader on Saturday. The battle of the two heavyweights featured the No.1 Hogs vs. the No. 3 Rebels.
Game one saw the Rebels get out to an early 3-0 lead, only to have Arkansas put up seven runs in the sixth, seventh, and eighth to beat Ole Miss, 7-3.
In game two, Ole Miss plated five runs in the first three frames and added more in the fifth and seventh before putting the game away in the eighth inning with five more runs to defeat the Hogs, 13-6. Hayden Leatherwood hit a three-run homer, and three Rebels notched three hits apiece, including Chatagnier, Bench and McCants. Somewhat amazingly, 15 of 18 Ole Miss hits were singles.
WELCOME TO SWAYZE FIELD.@HLeatherwood9 bring the rain!
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) April 10, 2021
While the back end of the double-header saw 19 runs scored between the two teams, that paled in comparison to the 32 total runs scored on Sunday in game three.
The Hogs got things started with 11 runs crossing the plate in their first three trips to the plate. The Rebel offense would not be deterred, scoring five of its own in the bottom of the third, including a Bench 3-run home run.
With three more runs by Arkansas in their half of the sixth, the Hog lead grew to 14-6, a seemingly insurmountable advantage — but not for the resilient Rebs.
Five would score for the Rebels in the sixth with a bases-loaded, three-run double by Chatagnier and a two-run home run by Graham. Still down three, Ole Miss evened the score in the seventh with two RBI singles and an RBI fielders choice. Unfortunately, the Arkansas offense scored the final four runs of the game to take the series, 2-1.
Trip to Starkville
A battle against in-state rival Mississippi State was next on the docket for the Rebels. On Friday night, Hoglund took a hard-luck loss after going seven innings, striking out nine and allowing just three runs. His strike-out tally at this point in the season was white-hot with 87, giving him the No. 2 spot both nationally and in the SEC.
On Saturday against the Bulldogs, the outstanding pitching performance from Nikhazy on #DougDay was matched by the offensive onslaught from the Rebel hitters. Doug was absolutely dominant, throwing a complete-game, one-hitter. He struck out 12 and was awarded National Player of the Week and SEC Pitcher of the Week honors.
🔥 9 IP
🔥 12 K
🔥 1 H
🔥 Win vs. State
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 17, 2021
Offensively, it was a day of doubles with RBI doubles off the bats of Hayden Dunhurst, Cael Baker, Ben Van Cleve, and Jacob Gonzalez, as well as a solo home run from Hayden Leatherwood.
On Sunday, the Rebel bullpen wasn’t able to hold down an early 4-2 Ole Miss lead, and for the third straight weekend the Red and Blue dropped a series to a ranked SEC foe.
Home vs. LSU
Halfway through the SEC season, the Rebels sat in third place with a 9-6 record. On Grove Bowl weekend, the retirement of beloved Rebel player and coach Don Kessinger and a visit from LSU began the second half of the SEC campaign for Ole Miss.
What a moment. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/EZW07Y3pAx
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) April 23, 2021
Three home runs on Thursday in game one from Kevin Graham, Hayden Leatherwood and Jacob Gonzalez were not enough as LSU would nip the Rebels, 5-4.
In game two Ole Miss lost to the Tigers, 7-2, giving LSU the series win. It was Nikhazy’s second and last loss of the year that Friday night, as he left the game down 2-1 and watched as the Tigers pulled away late.
In a game three that harkened back to the Arkansas series, LSU built a 9-1 lead over the Rebs that was seemingly insurmountable. But having only four outs left to play with, the Rebel rally began.
TJ McCants singled to begin the 8th inning. With two outs in the inning, Ben Van Cleve drew a 3-2 walk. Jacob Gonzalez then singled to score McCants. A three-run hit from Chatagnier cut the lead to four. Graham then singled to restart the two-out rally. Hayden Dunhurst was hit by a pitch and the big blow of the inning was a TJ McCants grand slam to tie the game at nine, much to the dismay of LSU Head Coach Paul Manieri who was ejected.
Taylor Broadway held the Tigers off the scoreboard in the ninth and freshman Kemp Alderman walked it off for Ole Miss on a first-pitch fastball. It was a true turning point for the 2021 Ole Miss baseball season.
ONE PITCH, ONE SWING, AND THE FRESHMAN'S FIRST CAREER BOMB!
KEMP ALDERMAN, WALK IT OFF! pic.twitter.com/73UG2w7Coy
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) April 24, 2021
Hosting the Gamecocks
A visit from No. 7 South Carolina provided an opportunity for the Rebels to continue the momentum from game three of the LSU series. Winning scores of 5-1, 7-3, and 6-4 powered Ole Miss to a much-need sweep of the Gamecocks.
Game one featured Gunnar Hoglund throwing six innings of one-hit baseball where he struck out nine.
MID 4| ʜᴏɢʟᴜɴᴅ ɪꜱ ᴅᴇᴀʟɪɴɢ@GunnarHoglund through 4 IP:
52 Total Pitches
Ole Miss 2, South Carolina 0
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 1, 2021
Derek Diamond and Taylor Broadway added eight more strikeouts to bring the staff total to 17 for the Rebels. Offensively, Ole Miss scored on three singles and a sacrifice fly.
In game two, the Rebels used the long ball to score five of their seven runs with Justin Bench, Hayden Dunhurst, and Jacob Gonzalez all going yard. Doug Nikhazy earned his fifth win.
Four singles and a Kevin Graham home run scored six to best the Gamecocks by two runs in game three. Taylor Broadway recorded his ninth save.
On to Aggieland
In their second road-trip to Texas of the year, the Rebels fell in two games of the three-game series by a single run with much of the damage been done by Aggie first baseman Will Frizzell. Frizzell absolutely pounded the Ole Miss pitching staff with five home runs and 10 RBIs on the weekend.
Friday night starter, Gunnar Hoglund left the game Friday night after only 2/3 of inning with what was described as “stiffness in his forearm.”
Following a pinch-hit appearance at Swayze the weekend before, Rebel captain Tim Elko began his return to action in earnest in College Station. Seeing Elko pinch-hit in the seventh inning in game two wasn’t just a “feel good” moment for fans and his teammates in the dugout, it was an announcement — much like when Michael Jordan returned and simply declared “I’m Back.”
Elko was “Casey at the Bat,” but this time Casey did not strikeout and instead slammed an 0-1 offering deep into the bleachers at Blue Bell Park. Game two of the series provided head coach Mike Bianco his 800th victory at Ole Miss and 900th victory of his career.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 8, 2021
Unfortunately, following the A&M series, co-ace Gunnar Hoglund was diagnosed with a torn UCL and was lost for the season. He would soon have Tommy John surgery.
Hosting the Commodores
The No. 2 Vanderbilt Commodores made their way to Oxford for the final regular season series at Swayze of the 2021 campaign. Vandy brought with them a devastating 1-2 pitching punch in projected top five MLB draft selections Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter.
With the injury to Hoglund, Nikhazy was moved back to a Friday starting role. Nikhazy rose to the occasion and went seven innings, allowing just a single run as the Rebels defeated the Commodores, 3-1.
118th pitch at the back ankle for strikeout number 1️⃣0️⃣ from Doug Nikhazy!
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 15, 2021
Rocker allowed the same number of hits as Nikhazy but fell victim to the hitting strength of the Rebel lineup which produced a two-run home run from TJ McCants and a solo shot off the bat of Kevin Graham.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 14, 2021
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 14, 2021
Ole Miss dropped game two of the series, 13-2, but would rebound in a big way in game three.
The ten runs the Rebels put up on Vandy in the third inning of the 13-10, game-three, series-clinching win were the most they would score in a single inning all year. The innings consisted of two, two-run doubles, a three-run and a two-run home run. Jacob Gonzalez homered twice during Sunday’s game and earned his second SEC Freshman of the Week honor of the season.
WHO WANT SOME MORE?!
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 16, 2021
The series victory over Vanderbilt propelled the Rebels to No. 11 in the country.
Regular-season finale in Athens
The wrap-up of conference regular-season play was a trip to Athens for a series with Georgia. The Rebels still had some work to do to nail down an NCAA regional host spot. With the SEC tournament looming the following week, all SEC series this week were Thursday, Friday, Saturday affairs.
Nikhazy turned in a gem Thursday night, going seven innings and recording 13 strikeouts. Taylor Broadway recorded his 11th save of the season. The Ole Miss offense provided just enough run support to secure the 2-0 victory in the first game of the series.
Trailing 5-1 going into the 8th, the Rebels found themselves in a similar, yet manageable, position. Once again, Ole Miss bats rose to the occasion when Kevin Graham and Tim Elko hit back to back home runs to tie the game.
Absolute ROCKET! 🚀
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 22, 2021
TIM TIES IT!! (Still on once ACL btw…)
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 22, 2021
Singles by McCants, Gonzalez, and Graham powered the Rebels to an 8-5 series-clinching victory in eleven innings.
Sunday, the Rebels fell, 13-2, to end the regular season with an 18-12 record in the SEC West and a 38-17 record, overall.
With the No. 5 seed in the SEC tournament, the Rebels were forced to play Auburn in an elimination game Tuesday. On short rest, Doug Nikhazy took care of business, turning in six innings of four hit, two run baseball.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 26, 2021
Taylor Broadway allowed just one run and one walk in 2.1 innings and recorded his 13th save. Justin Bench recorded just the second inside-the-park home run in SEC tourney history, while Hayden Dunhurst hit the more traditional home.
Second inside-the-park HR in SEC tournament history.@JBench_2 ladies and gentlemen.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 26, 2021
A narrow late-night loss to Vanderbilt Wednesday sent Ole Miss to the losers bracket to face Georgia for the fourth time in 8 days. Rebel pitchers turned in a staff shutout with Ole Miss winning, 4-0.
A rematch with the Commodores provide an opportunity for another comeback story, this one in the form of Tyler Myers. Myers, a junior college transfer from Paris Junior College who is well-known for the smile on his face, was dominant against the stout Commodore lineup. The Houstonian recorded season-highs in innings pitched (7) and strikeouts (6). A 4-1 victory propelled the Rebels to the conference tournament semi-finals against Arkansas.
B8 | Myers' day is done with two on, but what a day it was.
7.0 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K 🔥
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) May 28, 2021
The extra game Tuesday and Friday compared to Arkansas’ limited action might have been too much for the Rebels to overcome, but the Ole Miss squad battled valiantly before coming up short to the eventual tourney champion Razorbacks, 3-2. Rebels’ catcher Hayden Dunhurst turned a SportsCenter No. 1 Play as he topped into the Arkansas dugout to retire one of the Hogs’ batters on what appears in the box score as an “everyday pop out.” It was anything but that.
NCAA tourney action – Rebels host Regionals
The second season began Memorial Day Monday with the NCAA selection show. Ole Miss had been chosen as a host the evening before, so that drama was taken out of the equation. Who would head to Oxford and who would the Rebels be paired with were the questions on everyone’s mind?
Southern Miss was named the two seed, Florida State the three, and Southeast Missouri completed the bracket. As the No. 12 overall seed, Ole Miss was paired with the winner of the No. 5-seed Arizona (Tucson) Regional.
A decision was to be made regarding the starting pitchers for Regionals. What was the best way to get to 2-0 and stay in the driver’s seat? Was it Diamond-Nikhazy or Nikhazy-Diamond? The Diamond-Nikhazy pairing was set and Derek Diamond took the hill Friday night against No. 4-seed Southeastern Missouri. Diamond would go 4 1/3, leaving the game with the lead. And…what a way the Rebels took the lead!
Captain Tim Elko came to the plate in the DH role with the bases loaded. “Magical” is the word that comes to mind as Elko deposited the first pitch he saw into right field for a regional grand slam — and a sign of good things to come later in the regional.
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) June 5, 2021
Jack Dougherty followed Diamond and was “the bridge to Broadway,” throwing three strong innings before handing the ball off to ace closer Taylor Broadway. Broadway retired all five hitters he faced to earn the save, his 14th of the season.
#DougDay was special that Saturday, as many thought it might be the last Rebels would see of Nikhazy in action in an Ole Miss uniform at Swayze.
In a Drew Pomeranz-type performance, Doug dazzled as he struck out 16 Florida State hitters over seven innings and earned his 10th win of the season. Taylor Broadway again was called on and faced the minimum as he recorded his 15th save.
Doug does Doug things on #DougDay! Nikhazy notches a career-high 16 Ks and ties the school record for single-game strikeouts as #RebsBSB defeats FSU, 4-3. Our Chris Muller takes a look at the performance and the win! @rebelinc #HottyToddy #LFG https://t.co/g56K0BhrRH
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) June 6, 2021
The Rebel offense was assisted by the Florida State infield as all four Ole Miss runs were scored on FSU errors.
Facing Southern Miss…twice
The Rebs faced Southern Miss in a possible championship game Sunday night that didn’t go Ole Miss’ way as USM took a 7-4 lead in the bottom of the first and never looked back.
Game two vs. Golden Eagles – Elko’s spectacular day
In my best Tom Rinaldi voice, “What if I told you, Tim Elko, the Ole Miss two-year captain, would tear his ACL April 5 and return to action this season?” Ok.
“What if I told, Tim Elko, the Ole Miss two-year captain, would tear his ACL April 5, return to action this season, and go on to be named Regional Tournament MVP?”
After the game was delayed over two hours due to weather, the Rebels’ Peyton Chatagnier and Justin Bench both hit two-run blasts in the first inning to put the Rebs out to an eerily similar 4-0 lead, the same 4-0 lead Ole Miss had in the first the previous evening. The lead would go to 5-0 before Tim Elko literally took over the game.
The Elko magic would appear yet again, this time in the second inning, when the captain cleared the bases for his SECOND grand slam of the weekend.
GRAND SLAM. TIM ELKO.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) June 7, 2021
The cherry on top was the solo shot Elko hit to right in the third that would secure his Regional Tournament MVP title.
You cannot be serious. 😧
TIM ELKO. ANOTHER HOME RUN.
— Ole Miss Baseball (@OleMissBSB) June 7, 2021
Simply a stunning achievement for anyone with a midseason injury, much less one that requires surgical repair to fix.
Calvin Harris capped off the Rebel scoring with a two-run bomb that would also score Hayden Leatherwood.
Pitching in game seven of a regional can be a bullpen-by-committee situation, and this Monday was no exception. Jack Dougherty started and contributed four solid innings. He was followed by Cody Adcock, Jackson Kimbrell, a somewhat-surprising appearance from Derek Diamond, and a relatively shocking trip to the mound from DOUG NIKHAZY for his last appearance at Swayze.
Nikhazy was awarded the win, his eleventh on the year. In the final two innings, Taylor Broadway made his third shutout appearance of the weekend, allowing his only hit of the weekend and earning his 16th save. The 12-9 victory sent the Red and Blue Regional Champions to Tucson Arizona to face the University of Arizona for the right to go to the College World Series.
Super Regional in the Desert
On a warm June Friday night in the desert, things didn’t go as Coach Bianco and the Rebels planned. While Ole Miss jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, the Rebs would soon find out that a strong Arizona offense would not be held down. The Wildcats scored the final nine runs of the game and defeated Ole Miss, 9-3, in game one.
In game two, a University of Arizona post-season record crowd of 7,450 saw a lot of Rebel runs, combined with what ended up being the final Doug Day of Nikhazy’s Ole Miss career.
After two complete, the Rebels led 7-0, including a lead-off home run off the bat of Jacob Gonzalez and RBI singles from Dunhurst and John-Rhys Plumlee. Gonzalez also notched an RBI-double, while Peyton Chatagnier hit a two-run bomb. Ole Miss manufactured five additional runs and went on to win, 12-3.
Nikhazy went 5 1/3 in the win, striking out 10 and allowing just two runs.
Here’s strikeout No. 1️⃣4️⃣0️⃣ on the season for @Dougnikhazy! He has surpassed Drew Pomeranz (2010) for 2nd place on the single-season strikeout list with 140 strikeouts this season. #HYDR #DougDay pic.twitter.com/jQrcT97BeC
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) June 13, 2021
Austin Miller came in and saved the bullpen, finishing the final 3 and 2/3 innings, allowing a single run and striking out six.
A winner-take-all game three of the Super Regional proved simply to not be the Rebels’ night. Ole Miss fired its best bullet in Taylor Broadway’s first start of his Rebel career. The Rebs would tie the game in the third inning, but Arizona answered in the bottom half of the frame, scoring two runs and extending the lead to 13-1 by the end of the fifth.
A Tim Elko double in the ninth offered the captain the curtain call he deserved on what was an amazing season — with or without the ACL injury. The legend of Tim Elko will not soon be forgotten by the Rebel faithful.
Almost immediately following the game-three loss, questions began to arise about Mike Bianco and if he had any interest in the head coaching vacancy at his alma mater LSU.
Those questions were finally put to rest on Sunday, June 20 with the following statements from Coach Bianco and AD Keith Carter:
“Ole Miss is home for me and my family, and I am committed to bringing championships to Oxford. I’m proud of what we have accomplished over the past 21 years, and I look forward to building on that foundation and achieving new levels of success. I want to thank Rebel Nation for their unmatched support, year in and year out, and how they help make Swayze Field the greatest experience in baseball.”
Head Baseball Coach Mike Bianco
“Mike Bianco is our head coach, and with his contract extended to the maximum four years, we look forward to seeing him lead Ole Miss to new heights. We understand that the consistent success of our program will generate interest from other schools, and with any coach, there can be personal factors that come into play. Mike and I have been in constant contact and have been able to privately sort fact from fiction. Our program is poised to take the next step toward success in Omaha, and we believe Coach Bianco is the right person to guide us there.”
Keith Carter, Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics
Rebels in the MLB Draft
The 2021 MLB Draft arrived July 11. Ole Miss pitcher Gunnar Hoglund was the first Rebel picked, selected by the Toronto Blue Jays with the overall No. 19 pick.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) July 12, 2021
Then, on the second day of the draft, Doug Nikhazy was taken in the second round by the Cleveland Indians.
Just a winner! The best big game pitcher we have ever had at Ole Miss. https://t.co/iWg5iOeaVk
— Coach Mike Bianco (@CoachMikeBianco) July 12, 2021
Rebel closer Taylor Broadway heard his name called in the sixth round by the Chicago White Sox.
He is as good as it gets at the end of the game…Congrats TB! https://t.co/1yiTOcjhSp
— Coach Mike Bianco (@CoachMikeBianco) July 12, 2021
One Last Ride
On July 13 following the draft, Rebel fans were treated to wonderful news from a trio of key players. Kevin Graham, Justin Bench, and Tim Elko all announced their intent to return to Ole Miss for “one last ride” in 2022.
Ready to get back for another year ☔️☔️☔️ pic.twitter.com/NJ6hFhRk2J
— Kevin Graham (@kevgraham11) July 13, 2021
— Justin Bench (@JBench_2) July 13, 2021
— Tim Elko (@TimElko) July 13, 2021
A Personal Note: Thank you
To close out this article, I want to take a minute to say ‘thank you’ to some important folks.
First, thank you to men of the 2021 team. There will never be another like you. You persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic and everything that brought. You navigated testing, mask-wearing, social distancing, the strangeness of travel during COVID, and many other things we’ll never understand or know about. Each of you personally brought me and the rest of Rebel Nation much joy. Whether you were a position player or a pitcher, a starter or a reserve, you played an important role in the success of this team. Without you and all your sacrifices, there is no Ole Miss baseball.
Second, thank you to the team managers. They spend countless hours doing so many things needed to support the team, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Your hard work is much appreciated.
Next, to head coach Mike Bianco and the entire coaching staff, thank you for the countless hours you put into developing our young men. Much of what you do goes unnoticed. It shouldn’t. The way our players interact with the fans and media is a direct reflection of your leadership. Ole Miss Baseball would not be what it is today with Coach Bianco and his staff.
Next, Asst. Director for Communications Alex Sims and Davis McCool, Communications Asst., did the unsung work of managing all things media for baseball. From late-night, post-game interviews to spotty connections in road facilities, to weird media questions (like “when was the last time an Ole Miss pitcher struck out four batters in an inning?”), they handle their jobs with class and a level of excellence that is admirable.
I was at Swayze for Regionals and in Arizona for Super Regionals, and the difference in the two media staffs is notable. Alex, Davis and our media staff are exceptional.
To you, the fan, thank you for the time you spend watching and being passionate about Rebel Baseball. I truly appreciate the time you spent reading my articles this season and watching our Rebel Walk baseball “instant reaction” shows. I know your time is valuable and you have many choices of where you get information about Ole Miss baseball. Thank you for choosing The Rebel Walk.
Finally, thank you to my wife, Amber. She literally gave up every weekend to allow me to pursue my love of Rebel Baseball. Without her support and encouragement week after week, this would not be possible. Appreciation and love doesn’t come close to expressing how deeply important she is to me.
As we look forward to the 2021 fall baseball Season and the 2022 regular season, I end this as I do all my articles….with two simple words that embody Ole Miss and the Rebel Spirit….