OXFORD, Miss. - Doug Nikhazy struck out 10 batters while allowing three hits, but a strong pitching effort and the long ball allowed the UCF Knights to snap a 20-game winning streak for the No. 1 Ole Miss Rebels and pull off the upset 3-2 at Swayze Field on Friday.
On the mound, Nikhazy (0-1) went 6.1 innings and gave up two earned runs on 90 pitches, both via solo home runs in the seventh inning. At the plate, Justin Bench and Hayden Dunhurst both went 2-for-4, with runs coming from a Cael Baker RBI single that scored Ben Van Cleve and a Hayden Dunhurst solo home run. On the other end, Colton Gordon gave up six hits and struck out six batters. Gordon also stranded six Rebels on base in a pitchers’ duel to open the weekend series.
Nikhazy struck out leadoff hitter Matt Archer to start the game before giving up a center field single by Gephry Pena. Nikhazy took care of the next two batters with the third out coming on a diving catch by Hayden Leatherwood in right field. Colton Gordon then used 11 pitches to get out of the inning, blowing through the top of the Ole Miss order.
The Knights would once again find themselves on the base path as Joshua Crouch reached on a hit-by-pitch, but Nikhazy shut the door once again with two strikeouts and a fly out by Alex Freeland. After Graham grounded out to second base, Gordon walked Van Cleve to get the Rebels on base for the first time. Dunhurst later reached on a fielder’s choice, but a strikeout of Baker ended the second inning.
The top of the third began with Nikhazy sitting down Pablo Ruiz, Pena and Archer. Leatherwood took an 0-2 pitch and singled up the middle for Ole Miss’ first hit of the game. A double-play cleared the bases before Bench reached on a blooper to shallow right field where the ball dropped between three Knights. Bench stole second base, but Gordon then retired the side with a ground out.
After a walk issued to Nick Romano, Nikhazy responded by taking care of three straight batters to begin the fourth inning, the latter two were fly outs to Bench. Then, Ole Miss broke through. With two outs, back-to-back singles by Van Cleve and Dunhurst set up Baker to get an RBI single and put the Rebels up 1-0.
Nikhazy continued his dominant game on the mound, taking care of the next three UCF batters in the top of the fifth. However, the Rebels could not cash in after a one-out double by Bench was followed up with a pop up an ground out. In the top of the sixth, Nikhazy was still dealing with three straight strikeouts. Gordon still kept things close as he used eight pitches to get out of the sixth inning.
Two pitches into the seventh, Jordan Rathbone tied the game up on a solo homer to left field. That was followed up by another solo shot by Crouch that gave UCF their first lead of the ball game. Mike Bianco turned to Miller out of the bullpen to end the inning. He did so following a pop up and Freeland getting picked off at first base by Dunhurst. Gordon and UCF answered the bell yet again with two strikeouts and a tough diving catch by Pena at center field.
Pena followed that defensive play up with an infield single to third base with one out. Dunhurst then launched a rocket from home plate to catch Pena stealing second. A fly out by Noah Orlando ended the top half of the eighth inning. David Litchfield replaced Gordon on the mound and delivered three ground outs going into the final inning.
Taylor Broadway succeeded Miller on the mound and gave up a 2-1 double to left field. The Knights added another run via error courtesy of Rathbone which gave his team a 3-1 lead. With runners on first and second with two outs, Broadway retired the side with a strikeout looking. Down to his final strike with two outs, Dunhurst hit a line drive home run to left field, making it a one-run game. Baker got beaned on the following pitch, but a ground out ended the game with the Knights pulling off the upset.