The Ole Miss baseball team put together yet another cohesive game in the 2019 Oxford Regional to beat Clemson 6-1 on Saturday night.
A spectacular outing from Doug Nikhazy and homers from Cole Zabowski, Cooper Johnson and Kevin Graham lifted the Rebels over the No. 3 seed and into the late game on Sunday.
Nikhazy was locked in from the moment he took the mound as the Clemson hitters failed to catch up to his arsenal. The lefty allowed just four hits and three walks with nine strikeouts in 8.0 innings, repeatedly getting out of jams in key moments throughout the game. The freshman finished with 116 pitches, each one just as smooth as the last.
“The game flew by for me. It started to go by really quickly once I got past those first tough few innings trying to figure out their offense and how to approach them,” Nikhazy said. “After I got through those hard innings, then I just started to enjoy it and really take it in because that was a once and a lifetime experience with that crowd.”
The Rebels fans recognized the once in a lifetime performance from Nikhazy that culminated in a roaring applause after his ninth strikeout finished the eighth inning, and catcher Cooper Johnson said he’s known Nikhazy could do this all season.
“Looking back at the beginning of the year he was coming out of the bullpen, and I always knew he was a good arm,” Johnson said. “But it used to be me having to guide him through it a little bit more. And then now I look back at tonight’s game and I was just along for the ride. He was fantastic.”
Clemson head coach Monte Lee held their ace Mat Clark against Illinois in preparation for this matchup. The strategy went as planned in the first inning as the left-hander retired the side in order, but Zabowski launched a ball over the left field wall for Ole Miss’s first hit and score of the game in the second.
Johnson had Swayze Field shaking when he came up and did the same in the following at-bat to give the Rebels the 2-0 lead.
In the top of the fourth, a couple of wild pitches helped the Rebels extend the lead. The second from left-handed reliever Sam Weatherly brought Elko home. Zabowski had a golden opportunity with the bases loaded, but struck out swinging to end the inning.
Mike Bianco went with a fairly new lineup for the 1-0 game, inserting Tim Elko and Knox Loposer toward the bottom. Elko started at right field, pushing Anthony Servideo to second base, and Loposer started in the DH position in favor of fellow freshman Kevin Graham.
Elko had only 60 at-bats coming into the game and Loposer had 43, but the underclassmen held their own under the bright lights. Elko came out and went 2-3 with a walk and a single while Loposer finished 1-3 with a single and an RBI.
Clemson got on the board using their second and third hits of the game in the seventh. Grayson Byrd and Kyle Wilkie got on base and Bryar Hawkins hit into a double play as Byrd was able to sneak in for the run.
The Rebels answered back quickly when Kevin Graham came in to pinch hit for Loposer in the eighth and delivered a solo shot to right center field to bring it to 6-1.
Parker Carraci came in to relieve Nikhazy in the ninth and finished off the Tigers.
The Rebels continue to be patient at the plate with 8 walks in the game, which makes 17 walks in the regional.
The Rebels will face the winner of the elimination game between Clemson and Jacksonville State at 8 p.m. A win on Sunday earns the Rebels a Super Regional bid while a loss pushes the decider to Monday night.