OXFORD • Clemson held its ace for Ole Miss, but it was Doug Nikhazy who held the Tigers.
In a matchup of dueling lefties the Ole Miss freshman shined, throwing six-straight scoreless innings to lead No. 1-seeded Rebels to a 6-1 win over No. 3 seed Clemson in the Oxford Regional at Swayze Field Saturday night.
Ole Miss is 2-0 in a home regional for the second-straight season.
Clemson (35-25) and Jacksonville State will square off in an elimination game today at 2. The winner will have to defeat Ole Miss (39-25) twice to take the regional which is what Tennessee Tech did last year. The second game is scheduled for 8 p.m.
Nikhazy gave up two-straight hits to start the seventh, and the Tigers got their only run when Bryar Hawkins hit into a double play. That made it 5-1 and ended a string of 14-straight scoreless innings for Nikhazy, who shut out Texas A&M for eight innings in the SEC Tournament last week.
Nikhazy went eight innings against Clemson with four hits, three walks and nine strikeouts.
“The game flew by for me and started to go by really quickly once I got through those first few tough innings, trying to figure out their offense and how to approach them,” he said. “Then I just started to enjoy it and take it in. That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience with that crowd.”
While Nikhazy was hanging zeroes his offense was going long against Clemson ace Mat Clark, who Tigers coach Monte Lee chosed not to pitch in the first round against Illinois.
Opponents were hitting just .193 against Clark, but keeping the ball in the park had at times been a problem for the power left-hander.
It was again as Cole Zabowski and Cooper Johnson had back-to-back home runs in a three-run second.
The Rebels stretched the lead with single runs in the fourth and sixth.
In the eighth after the Tigers had shaved a run off the lead the Rebels pushed it back out with a solo home run from Kevin Graham, his 10th of the year.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said patience at the plate was critical against Clark. Video showed that many teams had “soft contact” against Clark as ill-timed swings resulted in easy outs.
“We knew Clark had tremendous command especially with the fastball on both sides of the plate. We had to get some good swings off, because he can mix it up, he can throw it both sides of the plate and can throw his breaking ball and change-up into the strike zone. We had to be patient and get the ball up,” Bianco said.
Clark barely broke a sweat in retiring the Rebels in order in the top of the first, but things changed in the second.
Zabowski’s big swing went low to snatch a fastball and drive it over the wall in right.
Then Johnson made it back-to-back, homering to the deepest part of the park left of the batter’s eye with room to spare.
Clark issued walks to Tyler Keenan and Tim Elko, and there were still no outs. Anthony Servideo bunted the runners ahead.
That allowed Keenan to score on a ground ball by Knox Loposer.
Clark had thrown almost 40 pitches in the inning when he fanned Ryan Olenek, leaving Elko at third.
As the Rebels await an opponent for the championship round they’ve allowed just three earned runs in 18 regional innings – a 1.50 ERA – and have 26 hits with three home runs.
After a six-game losing streak in May threatened to torpedo the season Ole Miss has won seven of its last nine.
And a year after falling short against Tennessee Tech the Rebels have another chance to close out an Oxford Regional.
“The biggest thing for us is to be where our feet are. We don’t know who we’re going to play, what time. Looking in the past really doesn’t do you any good,” Johnson said. “We’re all feeling pretty good about the way we’re playing right now. We’re all feeling confident about ourselves and each other, about the team as a whole.”