Ole Miss pitcher Doug Nikhazy was as-advertised Saturday night, and the Ole Miss Rebels evened the Super Regional series at one win apiece with a 12-3 victory over Arizona.
The deciding game for the College World Series is Sunday at 6 p.m. Hi Corbett Field. Arizona freshman Chandler Murphy is expected to be the starting pitcher, although Arizona head coach Jay Johnson would not confirm that in his postgame press conference.
The Rebels, who were the designated home team for Game 2, were in control from first pitch. In the bottom of the first, their leadoff man Jacob Gonzalez hit a home run to right field, and they never relinquished the lead.
Gonzalez was heavily recruited by Arizona, before choosing to play in Oxford.
The second inning wasn’t much better for Arizona. Ole Miss exploded for a six-run inning, and before some of the playoff record-breaking 7,450 fans could reach their seats, it was 7-0 Rebels.
The attendance is the second-highest since Arizona moved from Sancet Field to Hi Corbett in 2012 with the most being 8,607 when Arizona played ASU in 2016.
Last week’s hero Garrett Irvin struggled in his first start since his complete-game, 10-strikeout performance against UC Santa Barbara in the regional tournament. He lasted only 1 1/3 innings before being pulled.
Arizona has played well from behind in games this postseason. They fell behind 3-0 last night before coming back to win 9-3. They were down 4-0 to Grand Canyon to start postseason play last week before winning.
With an offense that can dig themselves out of early holes, there wasn’t too much concern at Hi Corbett Field. But on Saturday night, Ole Miss’s starting pitching was just too much.
Nikhazy went 5 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts and only gave up six hits. He threw 121 pitches and received a huge ovation from the Ole Miss faithful that have traveled in large numbers to the Old Pueblo with their Rebels.
The Cats had Nikhazy at 54 pitches already after the second inning, but when with the six-run bottom half of the inning that followed, the pitch count wasn’t as much of a factor as it could’ve been.
“Deception is the name of his game, there’s no question about that, tip your hat to him, you see why he is an All-American,” said Johnson about Nikhazy.
While he had four hits in the loss, Arizona first baseman Branden Boissiere was quick to compliment Nikhazy’s performance.
“He just filled up the zone really well I think tonight, he was aggressive in every count and he was throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes in every count, whether it was 3-0, 3-1 or 3-2, so I think that kind of kept us off balance tonight,” Boissiere said.
Arizona did show signs of life in the top of the fourth inning when they scored two runs thanks to RBI singles by Tony Bullard, of course, and Ryan Holgate. Bullard now has an eight-game hitting streak with 15 RBIs in that span.
Boissiere said that when games get out of hand like Saturday, it’s about “sticking with it” and continuing to play hard.
“When a game gets out of hand like that, 12-3, then you know guys start to take AB’s off or the dugout gets a bit quiet, so just sticking with it and trusting that we are really good baseball players, we can always put up a nine-run inning you never know when it’s going to happen,” he said.
Ole Miss crushed any hopes of a comeback for the Hi Corbett faithful as it added three more runs, making it a 10-2 ballgame. They added two more runs in the fifth to make it 12-2, which started a steady stream of fans towards the exit gates.
The real lone Arizona highlight came when Donta’ Williams put a ball on the top (maybe even over) the Terry Francona Hitting Center in right field during the seventh inning, making it 12-3. However, it was too little, too late.
Johnson had a parting message to the team after the loss, and it was simple.
“It (tonight’s loss) has zero relevance on tomorrow’s outcome unless you let it,” he said. “And if you had one game to play, on our field, with this team, to go to the College World Series, I’ll take it 1,000 times out of 1,000. I feel good about it.'”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Harrison Moreno is a southern Arizona native who has watched Wildcat athletics since he was young kid. He recently is a graduate of The University of Arizona’s School of Journalism, with a focus in broadcast and audio journalism.