OXFORD, Miss. (Ole Miss Athletics/WTVA) - No. 1 seed Ole Miss struck first and didn't look back, as they used a complete effort to down the No. 3 seed Clemson Tigers and advance to the NCAA Oxford Regional Championship Game for the second straight year. Doug Nikhazy neared perfection with his outing today, almost delivering a complete game, and allowing just one run to nine strikeouts.
The Tigers came into the game ranked eighth nationally with 81 home runs, but the Rebels beat them at their own game with the homers coming aplenty in today's contest. Cooper Johnson, Cole Zabowski, and Kevin Graham each notched a home run today, good for three runs and the second straight game for the Rebels with three long balls.
Nikhazy has looked virtually unhittable over his last two starts. Dating back to an SEC Tournament start against Texas A&M last week, Nikhazy has now tossed 16.0 innings of one-run baseball with just a combined seven hits allowed to both teams. The Tigers came in to today's matchup with one of the most dominant offenses in the country, but the freshman for Ole Miss easily had his way with the Clemson bats.
Nikhazy turned in 8.0 innings today, striking out nine and allowing just one run on four hits. He got out to a perfect start, striking out the side in his first inning, and rode the wave of a dominant effort all around to turn in one of his best starts to date in a Rebel uniform.
Clemson elected to save their ace for today's matchup with the Rebels, and sent out a revered left-hander in Mat Clark to face the red-hot Ole Miss bats. He came in boasting a 2.84 ERA and a .193 batting average against, but when the Rebels were done with him, he hardly looked like an unbeatable arm.
The Rebels chased Clark after just 3.1 IP, but only after he had been dealt four runs, all earned, on five hits and three walks. Both Johnson and Zabowski took him yard for a pair of back-to-back solo home runs early in the game, and by the start of the fourth inning, the Tiger ace was already at 80 pitches. He exited with one out in the fourth in a 3-0 ballgame, but only after the Rebels had risen his ERA all the way up to 3.21.
Ole Miss will now play the winner of Clemson-Jacksonville State tomorrow at 8 p.m. CT for a spot in the NCAA Super Regionals.
Nikhazy couldn't have started his regional debut much better. It took the freshman just 12 pitches, 9 of them strikes, to ring up the first three Clemson batters and strike out the side in his first inning.
Ole Miss went down in order the first time facing Clark and the Tigers, but bounced back in a big way for a three-run second inning. The Rebels led it off with back-to-back homers from the bats of Zabowski and Johnson, before Knox Loposer pushed across another run with a one-out RBI groundout, scoring Tyler Keenan who had originally reached on a walk.
After another hit in the third and two more to start off the fourth, Clark's day was done, and the Tigers turned to Sam Weatherly out of the bullpen. The Clemson reliever was able to limit the damage, allowing just one run to score after two had reached early. Tim Elko, who led off the frame with a single, ended up advancing to third, and then home, on consecutive wild pitches, and the Rebels took a 4-0 lead through the fourth inning.
Ole Miss tacked on another in the sixth inning after the first two batters were able to reach. Thomas Dillard was walked on five pitches to put the leadoff man aboard, and Ryan Olenek booted him to third with a single into right field. Grae Kessinger made the effort worth it, and notched himself an RBI with a sac fly to deep center field to score Dillard from third.
Nikhazy had allowed just one hit through six innings on the mound, but the Tigers finally caught up to the sweeping breaking ball in the seventh. Clemson led it off with back-to-back hits, a double and a single, and the Rebels later traded a run for two outs with an RBI 6-4-3 double play.
Ole Miss quickly worked to reclaim the run in a big way the next inning. After a pair of homers earlier the game and three more yesterday, Graham notched the sixth of the weekend for the Rebels with a leadoff solo home run to right-center field, handing Ole Miss back their five run lead.
Nikhazy ran himself into a bit of trouble in the eighth inning after a walk and a single put two aboard, but he shut down a potential rally with some of his best work all game against the top of the Clemson order. He managed to get a pair of Tigers to swing on some two-strike breaking balls, striking out his eighth and ninth batters of the game, respectively, as the Rebels worked out of a jam to keep the game locked at 6-1.
Nikhazy returned to start out the bottom of the ninth in a bid for his first career complete game. Though a leadoff walk would prevent him from seeing it through, the Rebel starter turned in 116 pitches and allowed just one run through 8.0 IP, and exited in the ninth to a standing ovation.
Parker Caracci entered with a runner on in the ninth inning, but completed his job to perfection, forcing three straight outs and leaving the runner stranded at first base. The Rebels earned the win, 6-1, over the Tigers, and advance to the Regional Championship Game for the second straight year.
- Ole Miss improves to 39-25 on the year.
- The Rebels advance to the Regional Championship game after two straight wins for the second year in a row.
- Ole Miss will play the winner of Clemson-Jacksonville State on Sunday at 8 p.m. CT.
- With three today, the Rebels have now hit six home runs through two games in the Oxford Regional.
- Ole Miss hit three home runs in back-to-back games for the first time all season.
- The Rebels have now hit in double figures 24 times this season.
- Ole Miss pitchers have held opposing batters to a combined seven hits and three runs through the first two games of the regional.
- Freshman Doug Nikhazy has now gone at least 6.0 IP in five of his last six outings.
- Over his last two appearances, Nikhazy has turned in 16.0 IP, with just one run allowed, seven hits allowed, and 11 strikeouts.
- Nikhazy's nine strikeouts today are the second-most he's tossed in an outing all season. His 8.0 innings pitched also ties his career best.
- Three Rebels had solo homers today: Cooper Johnson (7th of the season), Kevin Graham (10th) and Cole Zabowski(11th).
- Graham's 10 homers have now exceeded Tyler Keenan's freshman mark of nine last year. The young Rebel also has five home runs in his last 15 games played.
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