OXFORD – It was strange to hear “Rooster” blare from the loudspeakers in the middle of the game, but it was a strange game.
So when the walk-out song signaled the entrance of Ole Miss left-hander Doug Nikhazy there were certain expectations.
Nikhazy came in and retired pinch-hitter Slade Wilks with a swing-and-miss curve ball for a monster out to strand three runners in the sixth in keeping with the theme of the day.
Nikhazy, who threw 119 pitches and tied a school record with 16 strikeouts against Florida State on Saturday, also pitched the seventh, and the Rebels defeated Southern Miss 12-9 to claim the Oxford Regional. They will play at Arizona in a super regional later this week.
The Golden Eagles forced the winner-take-all single game Monday with a 10-7 win over Ole Miss in the first game of the championship round on Sunday.
Ole Miss had a 4-0 lead in the first inning of that game, a feat the Rebels repeated Monday against USM right-hander Ben Ethridge.
Nikhazy and Ethridge weren’t the only regular season weekend starters who were called on in different roles in the regional.
Ethridge didn’t the Golden Eagles’ opener against Florida State on Friday, but he threw 40 pithes in relief.
USM’s Hunter Stanley and Walker Powell did start games in the regional, and both made relief appearances Monday.
So did Derek Diamond, who started the regional opener for Ole Miss.
All that pitching didn’t keep the ball from flying out of the park on a windy day. There were 11 home runs total in a game that started two hours late because of rain, had a weather delay in the early innings and finally a few minutes after 6 p.m. when Taylor Broadway got USM’s Danny Lynch looking at curve ball for the last out of the game.
It was Broadway’s third save of the regional, his 16th of the season.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco told all his pitchers late Sunday to consider whether they needed treatment and to expect to be asked about their availability for Monday’s elimination game.
“Last night I got home and got a text message from Doug, and he said, ‘Coach, I’ll start, I’ll relieve, whatever you need me to do, but I’m ready to go,’” Bianco said.
One of those home runs came from Tim Elko, a grand slam in the second inning – his second grand slam of the regional – that gave the Rebels a 9-0 lead.
Elko had a solo home run in the fourth. He also had a single and was intentionally walked in his other two at-bats.
Elko was named the most outstanding player of the regional.
Southern Miss also had a two home-run game from center fielder Reed Trimble.
“(Elko’s) a big-moment player, and so is Trimble,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “Those guy’s fly when it’s on the line. That’s why they’re special.”
Nikhazy located well early in the seventh but left a fastball over the plate for Lynch who homered to right field. The next man up, Will McGillis homered to left.
It was 12-9 after seven innings, the second time the Golden Eagles had climbed to three runs back.
Broadway struck out three and faced one batter over the minimum in the last two innings. He gave up one hit, a hard single at first base by Trimble.
“It wasn’t easy, but we talked about that. ‘Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better,’” Bianco said. “We were good today. We made a couple more pitches, a couple more swings of the bat.”