Nikhazy outduels Rocker as Ole Miss tops Vanderbilt

·2 min read

May 15—OXFORD — Fifteen major league scouts were in attendance at Swayze Field Friday, and they saw quite a show.

From Doug Nikahzy.

Vanderbilt pitchers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter are projected top-five picks, but Nikhazy outdueled Rocker, and the Rebels made two home runs stand up in a 3-1 win before 8,986 fans.

No. 18 Ole Miss has lost five of its last six SEC series but has the chance to lock down another one with Game 2 against No. 2 Vanderbilt Saturday at 4.

Nikhazy was bumped up a day in the rotation because the Rebels (35-14, 15-10 SEC) were without their own projected first-round draft pick, Gunnar Hoglund, whose season ended Monday when an MRI revealed torn elbow ligaments.

Nikhazy's curve ball had bite, and he was at Pitch No. 101 in the seventh inning before the Commodores (35-11, 16-8 SEC) scored on a solo home run by Isaiah Thomas to lead off the inning.

Whatever the scouts saw didn't matter to Nikhazy.

"That thought never crossed my mind. It was as awesome opportunity for me in hindsight, but in the moment I just keep my eyes locked on (catcher Hayden) Dunhurst the whole game," he said.

Nikhazy finished with five hits, two walks and 10 strikeouts in 118 pitches, four fewer than he threw in a complete-game shutout at Mississippi State on April 17.

The Rebels made solid contact against Rocker earlier in the game more than later.

After Justin Bench was hit by a pitch freshman TJ McCants in a 2-1 count launched a fastball over the wall in right-center for a 2-0 lead in the second.

"I figured he'd come with a fastball. He did, and I was able to get the head on it," said McCants, who began the night hitting .360 in conference play.

Kevin Graham extended the lead to 3-0 with a solo home run in the third.

Ole Miss closer Taylor Broadway blew a save opportunity against Texas A&M last Sunday but pitched around a leadoff double in the eighth. After a quick out in the ninth he survived a 13-pitch at-bat from Thomas then got a fly ball to retire the Commodores in order.

Ole Miss ended the top of the sixth when Dunhurst threw out a runner at second base. That helped Nikhazy save some pitches.

After Thomas rounded the bases in the seventh Nikhazy set down the next three batters and ended his night with a strikeout on a swing-and-miss curve against Jayson Gonzalez.

Bianco said losing Hoglund was a "devastating blow," but Nikhazy more than picked up the slack.

"It was huge mentally. Our guys knew they could count on Doug, and he delivered."

parrish.alford@djournal.com