Elko home run highlights Ole Miss win
OXFORD, Miss. - Ole Miss bounced back in a big way and, as has been custom, found a way to win on Doug Day at Blue Bell Park for a series-splitting victory over Texas A&M. The Rebels exploded offensively for 12 runs, including seven in the seventh inning, while Doug Nikhazy twirled another gem as Ole Miss defeated the Aggies by a score of 12-7 to even the series and notch win No. 900 in the career of head coach Mike Bianco, including an even 800 as the Rebel skipper.
Nikhazy was hardly perfect, and there even came a time in the third when it looked like the Rebel starter would struggle to make it through three complete, but he found a way to persevere before ultimately retiring 12 in a row on his way to victory. Nikhazy (6-2) picked up his sixth victory of the season on 6.2 IP, 4 runs allowed on five hits, three walks, and nine strikeouts as he set the tone early for a dominant afternoon all around for the Rebels.
A&M actually maintained an early lead, but the visiting team was able to string together both hits and crooked innings, including the defining seventh inning highlighted by a glorious return from injury. Senior captain Tim Elko, in just his third plate appearance back from a torn ACL on April 5, hit a three-run homer deep into right field which ultimately sealed both the game and his place in Rebel lore, if there was any doubt.
Offensively, the pack was led by Elko and Kevin Graham, who went 2-for-5 with two runs, two RBI and a homer, whereas the bullpen work of Wes Burton and Tyler Myers closed it out in relief of Doug Nikhazy.
Texas A&M got out to an early lead thanks in part to a slew of free passes issued by Nikhazy and a lack of offensive production at the plate from the Rebels.
All Rebel batters failed to reach through their first time through the lineup, the Aggies were busy with runners all over the bases. In the second, Nikhazy issued two walks and hit one batter to load the bases with just one out. The Aggies pushed one across as Ray Alejo legged out an infield single to Justin Bench at third, but Nikhazy was able to limit the damage with an inning-ending pop out to strand three.
Nikhazy’s pitch count, however, was up to 50 through just two complete, and the Aggies didn’t let up on the Rebel starter. They led off the next frame with a double and a single to put runners on the corners and scored another on an RBI groundout, but the Rebel starter was able to leave one Aggie on and minimize the damage with a pair of strikeouts.
Although the Rebel starter got out to a rough start, he very quickly salvaged his outing and actually turned his start into a very impressive appearance. After the second hit in the third inning, Nikhazy did not allow another runner to reach until there was one out in the sixth inning. In fact, even though it took the Rebel ace 53 pitches to work the first six outs, he recorded the next nine on just 32 pitches.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss was hard at work at the plate. In the fifth, the Rebels tied it up after Ben Van Cleve tripled in a run in, while the big Rebel DH scored a batter later on a Hayden Leatherwood sacrifice fly.
The Rebels took their first lead of the ballgame just an inning later. Kevin Graham led off the festivities with a solo shot to left field, his 10th of the year, before two runners reached with two down in Hayden Dunhurst and TJ McCants. With a righty coming in relief, the Rebels elected to pinch hit Calvin Harris for Van Cleve, and the decision proved pivotal as the freshman drove in both runners with a two-run double in the right-center gap as the Rebels took a 5-2 lead.
Just one inning later, the Rebels exploded for seven more runs. Peyton Chatagnier, Graham, and McCants each tallied a run on three respective RBI singles, but the inning’s closing moments far out-shadowed the rest of the frame. With two runners on and just one out, Elko came on to pinch hit for just his third plate appearance since tearing his ACL on April 5. The captain struck one perfectly and launched it over the right field fence for a three-run home run as Ole Miss extended its lead to 12-3.
Nikhazy’s afternoon finally ended after a two-run homer capped his day at 6.2 IP, but not after a solid bounce-back outing for the Rebel ace. Wes Burton would relieve Nikhazy and closed the inning after another solo homer awarded to the Aggies, but the Rebels still remained in control with a 12-5 lead.
Burton twirled an impressive two complete, and was one out from the long close until A&M pushed one more across in the bottom of the ninth, calling Tyler Myers from the bullpen.
Myers recorded one needed out and Ole Miss officially defeated Texas A&M by a score of 12-7 in Saturday’s matinee. The two teams will play for the series tomorrow at 1 p.m. CT from Olsen Field at Blue Ball Park in Bryan-College Station.
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