By Adam Brown
No. 12 Ole Miss put together a strong offensive performance combined with a dominant outing on the mound for Doug Nikhazy to defeat the Auburn Tigers 7-2.
Nikhazy surrendered a run to Ryan Bliss in the first then settled into the game.
“Obviously, (Bliss) is an extremely talented hitter, and I think I just threw the wrong pitch there. It looked like he was sitting on it, really ready for it,” Nikhazy said. “The mindset after that, I think it just gives you a lot more motivation to go after the next guys.”
The southpaw kept the Tigers guessing at the plate until the fifth. Nikhazy had retired 14 straight Tigers during the stretch.
“You just had Doug up here. Obviously, he’s one of the best, not only in our conference but in the country,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “It’s a good feeling when you run him out there. The way he pitched, I think everybody’s used to that, especially at Ole Miss.”
Ole Miss (39-17) quickly responded to knot the game in the bottom of the first. Center fielder TJ McCants delivered a double to center and came home on an error that allowed Justin Bench to reach base.
“It was one of those games where it was won on both sides of the ball,” Nikhazy said. “Our offense came out and did a really good job, set the tone early and was able to get some runs back when Bliss put that really good swing on the ball off of me. Of course, our offense continues to prevail and be the best in the SEC.
In the third inning, the Rebels offense got rolling with a four-run inning. Bench was able to lead the frame off with an inside-the-park home run to left field. It was only the second-ever inside the park in tournament history since Kentucky’s Chad Green back in 1996.
“Ball hits the cap and bounces back, so I’m screaming at Bench to run, and thankfully it hit really square and caromed over into foul territory,” Bianco said. It was an easy in-the-parker. I’ve been at this stadium for 20 years, and I’ve never seen that.”
Ole Miss sent a total of 11 batters to the dish in the third. The Rebels had a total of two extra-base knocks including Bench’s home run and Kevin Graham’s double.
Auburn scratched back in the fifth, with a run and two hits on Nikhazy.
Ole Miss was lead at the dish by freshman shortstop Jacob Gonzalez, who went 4-for-5 in his first SEC Tournament game. Gonzalez had one run scored.
Nikhazy (9-2) worked 6.0 complete, surrendering two runs on four hits with seven strikeouts and a walk on the night to pick up the win.
Bianco called on the arm of Brandon Johnson in the seventh. Johnson worked 0.2 innings, allowing two runs. Then Taylor Broadway came in for the final seven outs to pick up the save. Broadway did not allow a run with a hit and walk to the Tigers.
Auburn scored two runs in the top of the seventh that cut the Rebels lead to 5-4.
In the bottom of the frame, Dunhurst sent a two-run blast into the Rebels bullpen to get the two runs back.
The Rebels move on to the double-elimination portion of the tournament to face No. 4 seed Vanderbilt Commodores. This will be a rematch of the 2019 SEC Championship game. The first pitch between the Rebels and the Commodores is set for around 8 p.m. on the SEC Network.