No. 10 Ole Miss almost completed the comeback but ultimately fell 3-2 to No. 18 East Carolina on Wednesday afternoon. The offense wasn’t there for the Rebels like it has been all season, and East Carolina starting pitcher Jake Kuchmaner pitched a gem of a game, nearly completing a no-hitter.
“We can really swing it,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “But you have to credit that guy on the mound today. He was terrific.”
Coming into the game, Kuchmaner’s numbers weren’t overly impressive. In 7.0 innings this season, he’s given up 7 hits and 2 earned runs. Not bad, but also not indicative of somebody capable of throwing a no-hitter.
“It just seemed like everything he was throwing was in the black on either side of the plate,” Ole Miss’s Thomas Dillard said about Kuchmaner. “He isn’t necessarily the hardest thrower, but he was putting it where he wanted. You just have to give him props because he had his stuff today, and we weren’t doing the best job of fighting it.”
Freshman lefty Doug Nikhazy made his first career start for the Rebels against the Pirates and had a solid 3.0 innings of work to begin the game, giving up a single hit and striking out five consecutive batters.
“I thought Doug was terrific,” Bianco said.
Like Jordan Fowler on Tuesday, Nikhazy’s outing was quickly soured by a single inning. The fourth inning saw East Carolina smash a 3-run homer to right field, giving the Pirates an advantage in the scoring column that they would never relinquish.
“It’s just that one inning,” Bianco said. “We had a bad inning, and they put three up. They had a bad inning, and we only put two up. Besides that, it was all pitching and defense.”
As has been the norm, the Rebel bullpen came in and provided nice support on the mound.
In relief of Nikhazy came Austin Miller and Connor Green. Both Miller and Green pitched well in their appearances, pitching a combined 4.0 scoreless innings and allowing one hit. The duo of Miller and Green has been huge for the Rebels thus far. Both boast sub-1.00 ERAs.
“I’m really proud of how Doug threw today, and Miller,” Dillard said. “I think everyone threw really good.”
The bats were cold all day for Ole Miss. The Rebels didn’t register a hit until the bottom of the ninth when Dillard came to the plate and hit a line-drive single to right-center to break up Kuchmaner’s no-no.
A series of errors by ECU followed, allowing Ole Miss to make it a game in the ninth inning.
First, ECU elected to pull Kuchmaner after Dillard’s hit. This move was followed up by a Tyler Keenan 2-RBI single that pulled the Rebels within one run. A fielding error, a wild pitch and a walk loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, Cooper Johnson hit a fly ball into foul territory, which was caught by ECU for the third out.
“Emotionally, we challenge the guys all the time,” Bianco said. “Sometimes that emotion comes from success. I thought in the dugout our guys were locked in. It’s just one of those days where they beat us — not by much, but they beat us — and their guy was really good on the mound.”