Rebels Rout Hogs – Arkansas vs. Ole Miss
By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – So far the visiting team hitting a first-inning home run ultimately spells defeat for the visitor in this best 2 of 3 baseball Super Regional between Arkansas and Ole Miss knotted one game each at Baum-Walker Stadium.
With Ole Miss storming back 13-5 Sunday after Arkansas won, 11-2 Saturday, the Super Regional is set to conclude in today’s 3 p.m winner take all game on ESPN2 at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Today’s winner advances among the Elite Eight playing for the national championship at the College World Series in Omaha.
The season concludes for the loser.
On Saturday Ole Miss’ Grae Kessinger solo homered in the first inning with the Rebels as visitors in Saturday’s game that Arkansas led 4-1 after the first and won 11-2 before 11,350 paid.
Sunday, with the Razorbacks the visitors, Arkansas center fielder Dominic Fletcher hit a first-inning 2-run home run.
The inning ended with Arkansas trailing Ole Miss, 3-2 then irrevocably down 8-2 in the second.
Ole Miss hit four home runs Sunday, one each by Cole Zebowski, the first-inning 3-run blast surpassing Fletcher’s 2-run shot, Cooper Johnson, Tyler Keenan and Kessinger in its Sunday success before 11,383.
Doug Nikhazy, the Ole Miss freshman lefty starter ridiculed by Razorbacks fans throughout Sunday’s game for what became an unfortunate Saturday nasal moment video gone viral picked up by social media, was tagged for 11 hits and five runs Sunday in five innings. But Nikhazy got the last laugh.
Nikhazy struck out 10 against a walk, stranded the Razorbacks scoreless with one out and the bases loaded in the third and second and third in the fifth and was the winning pitcher now 8-3.
Reliever Houston Roth took it from there throwing four scoreless innings.
“Congrats to Ole Miss,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “They played a great game, played good defense and didn’t walk anybody and got in some good hitters counts and hit the ball a long way and put together a 5-run when we should have turned a doubleplay, probably two of them. We got back in the game but couldn’t get the big hit. Just credit their pitching.”
Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco remarked, “I’m proud of our guys the way they bounced back from yesterday’s game which was so one-sided. We needed a huge performance on the mound and Doug gave us that. I think this wasn’t his sharpest day with all his pitches but a really gutsy performance. Today was really the offense. Starting with Zebo, a huge home run after they got two in the first. That was big. And we extended it with homers, a big homer by Coop and Keenan and of course Grae at the end.”
Roth and Arkansas’s Kevin Kopps and Kole Ramage, each used Sunday, likely are the only main relievers for either team not likely ready to pitch today with Arkansas starting freshman lefty Patrick Wicklander, 6-2, 4.29 ERA, and Ole Miss starting freshman right-hander Gunner Hoglund, 3-2, 4.64.
Ole Miss comes confidently into today’s decider having come back from a first-game SEC West series loss to Arkansas to win the series two games to one.
Arkansas last year advanced to the College World Series winning the winner take all third game with South Carolina.
“We’re two really good teams,” Zabowksi said. “We’ve seen that the past two days. We can both hit, we can both pitch and we can both field. So tomorrow I think it’s going to be a good game.”
Arkansas junior 3-year letterman and Arizona Diamondbacks second round draft choice Fletcher said, “Game Three is not something we’re scared of. A lot of us have been here before. When the pressure’s on, that’s really when we thrive I feel like.”
Arkansas’ Sunday hope for a 2-game sweep to Omaha was second inning snuffed the Razorbacks reeled down, 8-2 with freshman starter Connor Noland of Greenwood banished and sophomore Kole Ramage struggling in relief.
“I thought Connor just couldn’t locate his fastball and his breaking ball wasn’t as sharp as it has been,” Van Horn said. “They were on him pretty good and he was getting behind in the count, powerful lineup, a bunch of left-handed hitters, the wind blowing out.”
Arkansas got a first inning gift Sunday when both Ole Miss first baseman Zabowski and second baseman and Conway native Jacob Adams both looked for the other to catch Casey Martin’s easy popup between them. Neither budged. It fell for a hit. That allowed cleanup hitter Fletcher to hit his 2-run home run.
Zabowski more than atoned for his first-inning defensive indifference with his first-inning bat.
Thomas Dillard, leadoff single that center fielder Fletcher almost snagged but couldn’t hold on a would- have-been spectacular catch, and Kessinger, hit by pitch were aboard when Zabowski’s 3-run blast sailed over the right field bullpen.
Ole Miss catcher Johnson hit a just fair home run over right leading off the second.
Though Noland has pitched well in recent starts including in the SEC Tournament against Ole Miss and beating Central Connecticut State opening last week’s Fayetteville Regional, Van Horn had seen enough Sunday.
He summoned sophomore right-hander Ramage.
Ramage walked his first batter then nearly got a doubleplay reprieve. Second baseman Kenley bobbled Adams’ grounder but towards shortstop Casey Martin who got the out at second and threw to first for what initially was an out until a requested review saw Adams beat the throw. Two more walks and Tyler Keenan’s 3-run triple put Ole Miss up 8-2.
In the sixth Keenan blasted a solo home run over the right field bullpen even beyond Zabowski’s first-inning clout.
Arkansas loaded the bases but couldn’t score off Nikhazy in the third striking out Heston Kjerstad and retiring Jack Kenley on a popup.
Arkansas did nail Nikhazy for a 3-run 2-out rally in the fourth.
Jacob Nesbit, 1-out single, and Trevor Ezell, Casey Martin and Matt Goodheart, consecutive 2-out RBI doubles, did the damage.
Meanwhile Ramage pitched a scoreless third and turned it over to reliever Kevin Kopps in the fourth with two out and Rebels at first and second and Johnson up. Johnson hit it deep but caught by Kjerstad in right.
Arkansas pressured Nikhazy with 2-out runners at second and third in the fifth but Nikhazy struck out Zack Plunkett pinch-hitting for Christian Franklin who had struck out twice.
Right-handed reliever Houston Roth opened the sixth and stranded Goodheart’s 2-out double.
Keenan’s solo swat off Kopps opened a 3-run Rebels sixth. Zabowski and Kevin Graham were aboard with singles when Johnson bounced one up the middle that shortstop Martin made a great stop on but threw wide of second baseman Kenley. It was scored a bases-loading infield single. With Rebels running with two outs, two crossed the plate as Anthony Servideo grounded to deep first and was initially declared out with Kopps covering.
However on review Servideo beat the throw and netted a 2-run single.
Van Horn brought in freshman Elijah Trest for a seventh-inning postseason baptism opening with a walk and Kessinger’s 2-run home run.
Trest then settled in to retire the next six for the seventh and eighth.
Reviewing Saturday, Arkansas junior right-hander Isaiah Campbell pitched a career long 8 1-3 innings and upped his record to 12-1 in his final start at Baum-Walker.
Kenley, a 3-run first inning home run, Bryant native Ezell, 3 for 5 with two doubles and a home run, Goodheart 2 for 5 with a home run and three RBI, and Martin, 2 for 5 and two RBI, swung big sticks for the Hogs Saturday.
As the 45-18 national No. 5 seed, Arkansas is home team to the No. 12 seeded Rebels, 41-26, today.
Arkansas……200 300 00 – 5 12 0
Ole Miss…….350 003 20x – 13 12 0
Noland, Ramage (2), Kopps (4), Trest (7) and Opitz; Nikhazy, Roth (6) and Johnson
W-Nikhazy (9-3). L-Noland (3-5).
HR-Ole Miss: Zabowski (12). Johnson (8). Keenan (15). Kessinger (7) HR-Arkansas: Fletcher (11).
Ole Miss…..100 000 001 – 2 5 1
Arkansas….420 302 0x – 11 11 0
Ethridge, Myers (4), Hill (6), Cioffi (6) and Johnson; Campbell, Denton (9) and Opitz.
W-Campbell (12-1). L-Ethridge (7-7).
HR-Ole Miss: Kessinger (6). Dillard (14). HR-Arkansas: Kenley (13). Goodheart (5). Ezell (10).