Sixth inning dooms Rebels in 7-2 loss to Louisville

Photo Credit: Petre Thomas — Ole Miss Athletics

OXFORD —The sixth inning was Doug Nikhazy’s undoing in Ole Miss’ 7-2 opening day loss to No. 1 Louisville.

The Cardinals plated four runs and ousted him from the game in an inning that proved to be costly. costly

Nikhazy flirted with trouble in the first,  but stranded the bases loaded in a 30-pitch frame. The sophomore then cruised to a fairly uneventful five innings of one-hit, shutout baseball, and was awarded a lead in the bottom of the fifth when Justin Bench drove in a leadoff double from designated hitter Ben Van Cleve. True freshman John Rhys Plumlee pinch-ran for Van Cleve and scored on Bench’s knock to centerfield.

The run was the first and only damage off of All-American left-hander Reid Detmers, who surrendered the lone run on three hits with nine strikeouts and a pair of walks in five innings. Ole Miss struggled to catch up with his fastball at times, made even more difficult by a looping breaking ball that clocks in at around 70 MPH. Those two pitches, with a new slider mixed in, missed a lot of barrels.

“He’s got three pitches he can throw for strikes and he did that tonight,” sophomore shortstop Anthony Servideo said. “The approach was stay aggressive early in the count and look for a fastball.”

Servideo netted the most success off Detmers. He had a pair of hits and a walk in three plate appearances. Ole Miss stranded seven runners and committed four errors in this game.

Nikhazy relinquished the lead in the sixth inning as the Cardinal lineup turned over for the second time. He gave up back-to-back singles to leadoff hitter Luke Brown and then Danny Oriente. A one-out double from Zach Britton gave Louisville a 2-1 lead and another from Henry Davis added an insurance run and chased Nikhazy from the game. Taylor Broadway surrendered the final run Nikhazy was responsible for on a two-out double to Justin Lavey.

“We talk about bounce back innings after we score runs, meaning we need to come out and put up a zero,”Nikhazy said. “They smelled a little blood in the water and put together some really good at bats. I left couple pitches up that were not my best pitches. I am going to learn from that and come back better next weekend.

Nikhazy closed at four runs on five hits with three walks and five strikeouts on 89 pitches. The Louisville bullpen cobbled together four scoreless frames in relief of Detmers via the duo of Adam Elliott and closer Michael Kirian. Kiran recorded a five-out save.  Louisville played clean defensively and pitched better. The Cardinals’ army of quality arms are the predominant reason for their number one ranking and they underscored that in this performance.

“The difference in the game is, regardless of the score, they played better than us,”Mike Bianco said. “When they need to make pitches, they made a pitch and when they needed to make a play, they made a play. When they needed got at-bats, they made good at-bats. We didn’t really do that tonight.”

Bianco’s assessment was succinct. Ole Miss missed a couple of crucial pitches in the sixth and were unable to string together quality at-bats with runners on base. The Rebels struck out 14 times in total and mustered just four hits outside of Servideo’s two knocks.  Brodway ran out of gas in the eighth — his fourth inning of relief as his pitch count swelled north of 50 — and Louisville tacked on three more.

Ole Miss fell to 0-1 with the loss and will try to rebound tomorrow as it faces one of the more dynamic power starters in the country in Bobby Miller, who will boast a fastball that flirts with 100 and compliment it with a 90 mph slider.  Gunnar Hoglund gets the nod for the Rebels.

“Tomorrow is a new day,” Servideo said. “Just keep up the aggressiveness and play our game.”