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ECU’s Jake Kuchmaner tosses gem as Ole Miss’ comeback effort falls short in ninth inning

His velocity wasn’t overwhelming and the stuff was far from crippling, but East Carolina starter Jake Kuchmaner pieced together a gem as Ole Miss fell to the Pirates, 3-2 on Wednesday.

Kuchmaner placed the baseball where he pleased, painting the corners and working each side of the plate, keeping a potent Rebels’ offense off balance for the entirety of the game. Kuchmaner took a no-hit bid to the ninth inning. It was eventually broken up by Thomas Dillard with Ole Miss down to its final out.

“It seemed like everything he was throwing was on the black on both sides of the plate,” Dillard said. “He wasn’t necessarily the hardest thrower. He was just putting it where he wanted. You have to give him props. He had his stuff today and we weren’t doing the best job of fighting it.”

Kuchmaner topped out at 86 mph with his fastball, supplementing that with a changeup to counteract Ole Miss’ aggressive nature at the plate. The Rebels pressed to their detriment and to the benefit of the Pirate lefty. 

“We knew they were going to be aggressive,” Kuchmaner said.” So we were going to try to show fastball in and then work changeups away. It was a good plan and we executed well.”

He was efficient with his work, too, reaching the 8.2 inning mark in under 100 pitches before Dillard lined a base knock to right field.

Conversely, Ole Miss starter Doug Nikhazy was good in his own right, aside from one rocky sequence and a particularly costly breaking ball. Nikhazy made it five innings and gave up three runs on four hits with a walk and seven strikeouts. Trouble found him in the fourth inning as the Pirate lineup turned over. He issued a leadoff double to Bryant Packard, followed by a single to Brady Lloyd. Nikhazy got ahead of three-hole hitter Spencer Brickhouse 1-2, but hung a breaking ball that Brickhouse pummeled over the right field wall for a three-run home run. The entirety of East Carolina’s damage came on that pitch.

“I thought Doug was terrific,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “It was 3-2 against Packard and we try to sneak a slider in there to maybe roll him over. He smokes it into the gap for a double.  The two-hole guy, we were 1-2 trying to go in, tough at bat and he pushes one into center field. After the wild pitch, they get to second and third, normally we would walk Brickhouse. But with two strikes, we knew we were going to have to strike out somebody so we go for it.”

If this ends up being an audition for a potential weekend rotation slot for Nikhazy, he acquitted himself well outside of that lone sequence. He struck out five of the first six hitters he faced and showed good command of the fastball and slider for most of the 80-pitch outing. Austin Miller relieved him in the sixth and offered three innings of hitless relief. After the fourth, the Rebels matched Kuchmaner on the mound, but were unable to muster anything offensively. 

Kuchmaner didn’t stress much, cruising through seven innings at 78 pitches. 

“For me, I don’t really like taking until you get a strike and all of that kind of stuff,” Dillard said. “If you get a good pitch to hit, I have full faith in our whole lineup that can do damage with it. You have to keep the same approach and be aggressive.”

Kuchmaner issued a two-out walk to Michael Fitzsimmons as Dillard stepped into the box. He poked a 1-0 fastball to right field. It ended Kuchmaner’s day and brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Tyler Keenan, who laced a two-RBI single into left field off of Kuchmaner’s successor, Alec Burleson, to make it a 3-2 game. 

East Carolina did its best to spoil the gem. Shortstop Turner Brown botched a ground ball off the bat of Ryan Olenek that would’ve ended the game. Instead, it loaded the bases for Cooper Johnson. Sam Lanier relieved Burelson, immediately dumped two breaking balls in for strikes on the outer half to get ahead 0-2 and Johnson popped out shallow right to end the game. 

Ole Miss’ offense has covered some pitching warts through 11 games, but on this day the roles reversed a bit. The Rebels had a bad day at the plate and the pitching was good enough to win the game, but Kuchmaner was even better.

“We challenge the guys all the time,” Bianco said. “A lot of the time, the emotion comes from success. I thought the guys were locked in. It is just one of those days. They beat us, but not by much. That guy was really good on the mound.”

Ole Miss begins a three game home series with UAB on Friday at 6:30 P.M.


Justin Bench broke his right hand after being hit by a pitch in Tuesday’s win over Little Rock. Bianco said he will be out for roughly a month.


Photo credit: Joshua McCoy — Ole Miss Athletics

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