Nikhazy shines as Ole Miss claims game one win over Vanderbilt
OXFORD, Miss. - In a duel of aces on the mound, Doug Nikhazy came out on top as his dominant night and a pair of home runs lifted No. 14 Ole Miss over No. 2 Vanderbilt, 3-1, to open the weekend series at Swayze Field.
Nikhazy (W 7-2) threw 118 pitches in seven innings, striking out 10 batters and allowing five hits and two walks. Taylor Broadway recorded his 10th save of the season with his two innings of work, allowing just one hit.
At the plate, TJ McCants and Kevin Graham led the way, both going 2-for-3 and hitting a home run off the arm of Kumar Rocker, who struck out eight and earned his second loss of the season.
Nikhazy started things off retiring the first two Commodore batters before allowing a single by Dominic Keegan. A fly out by Jack Bulger ended the opening frame. With two outs in the bottom half of the opening inning, Rocker issued a walk to Graham and extended his on-base streak to 42 consecutive games. A fly out ended the inning.
Vanderbilt found itself in scoring position for the first time after a one-out walk issued to Isaiah Thomas later led to a stolen base. A single by Cooper Davis and another stolen base put runners on second and third with two outs, but Nikhazy’s strikeout of Jayson Gonzalez got him through the inning with no further damage.
Rocker beaned Justin Bench to begin the bottom of the second, adding to Bench’s season total of 20 and bringing him to No. 3 in the nation in HBPs. After Bench advanced to second on a wild pitch, McCants drew first blood with a two-run bomb to right field, giving Ole Miss a 2-0 lead with no outs. Rocker took care of the next three Rebel batters with consecutive strikeouts and a fly out to retire the side.
After a 1-2-3 strikeout inning for Nikhazy in the third, the Rebels had their second home run off Rocker with a two-out moonshot by Graham that traveled 417 feet with 108.2 MPH coming off the bat. The Rebels had a 3-0 lead going into the fourth inning, where Nikhazy again stranded two Commodores on base. In the bottom half, the Rebels couldn’t capitalize on a one-out bunt single by McCants. Both Rocker and Nikhazy went 1-2-3 through the opposing lineups in the fifth inning.
Keegan hit a leadoff single for the Commodores to begin the sixth, but all to no avail after Dunhurst caught him stealing second for the third out of the frame. Rocker retired three more Ole Miss batters in the bottom half of the inning.
Vanderbilt finally broke through in the seventh. Thomas hit a line drive, leadoff homer to left field to cut the deficit 3-1, the lone blemish on the night in Nikhazy’s stellar outing. Ole Miss looked to respond after a one-out double by Hayden Leatherwood. Following a fly out, Calvin Harris singled up the middle, but Vanderbilt second basemen Tate Kolwyck threw out pinch runner John Rhys Plumlee trying to go home for the third out of the seventh.
Broadway relieved Nikhazy to start the eighth inning out of the Rebel bullpen and immediately gave up a leadoff double by Ernique Bradfield. The nation’s stolen base leader swiped third, but Broadway came through with back-to-back strikeouts of the No. 2 and 3 hitters in the Vanderbilt lineup before disposing of the top left-handed hitter off the Commodore bench on a groundout to first to escape the jam.
Hugh Fisher replaced Rocker out of the Vanderbilt bullpen. Graham hit a two-out double to left field to get into scoring position, but a groundout brought the game to the ninth inning. Broadway delivered the final three outs in order, including a tense 13-pitch battle with Isaiah Thomas, to shut the door on the first game against the Commodores.
Ole Miss looks to take the series tomorrow with Derek Diamond scheduled to take the mound. First pitch is set for 4 p.m CT and can be seen on SEC Network+.
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