HOOVER, Ala. - Ole Miss took care of business in the opening round of the SEC Tournament vs. Auburn as the Rebels emerged triumphant over the Tigers by a score of 7-4.
As has become custom, Rebel ace Doug Nikhazy (9-2) turned in yet another gem on the mound for Ole Miss, going six innings and allowing just two runs, while Rebel closer Taylor Broadway handled the final 2.1 IP without allowing a run to cross.
Nikhazy picked up his ninth win of the season while Broadway earned his SEC-best 13th save as Ole Miss once again took care of business with the Rebel ace and top bullpen arm handling the opposing lineup with ease. In SEC games in which both Nikhazy and Broadway appear, the Rebels are now 7-0 on the season in a combined 56.2 IP with just nine earned runs allowed, and today was no exception.
Offensively, the Rebels were led at the pack by a pair of home runs, one inside-the-park from Justin Bench and one outside-the-park from Hayden Dunhurst, but perhaps no Rebel had a better day than the freshman shortstop Jacob Gonzalez, who went 4-for-5 at the plate with one double as part of his second career four-hit performance.
Auburn started the scoring in its very first at-bat. Second Team All-SEC shortstop Ryan Bliss sent the game's second pitch deep over the left center field wall to make it 1-0.
The Rebels responded in the bottom half, starting with a TJ McCants leadoff double. The Freshman All-SEC selection quickly came around on a throwing error by the Auburn second baseman. The first three Rebels all reached base, but Ole Miss left the first in a 1-1 tie.
It didn't stay that way for long. The Rebel offense put up a four-spot in the third, starting with an inside-the-park home run off the bat of Justin Bench, just the second in SEC Tournament history. The train kept rolling as Jacob Gonzalez, Kevin Graham and Tim Elko all reached base in succession, loading the bases for Peyton Chatagnier, who lined a single to left to bring home two more runs. Ole Miss added one more on an RBI walk by McCants, giving the No. 5 seed a 5-1 lead.
Meanwhile, Nikhazy rolled after the leadoff home run. The First Team All-SEC left-hander retired 14 straight Tigers, including six strikeouts before allowing a walk and an infield single in the fifth. Auburn capitalized with an RBI single by Garrett Farquhar to cut the gap to three runs, but Nikhazy escaped the jam striking out Bliss.
Nikhazy's day ended after six innings as he was replaced by Brandon Johnson out of the bullpen. Johnson walked the leadoff man but rebounded and was one strike away from escaping the inning unscathed, but a Farquhar double and Bliss single plated two runs and brought Taylor Broadway out of the bullpen. The Rebel closer induced a flyout to end the inning with the score 5-4.
Ole Miss answered back in the bottom half of the seventh, starting with a one-out single by Tim Elko. John Rhys Plumlee, who pinch-ran for the Rebel DH, swiped second and advanced to third on a wild pitch-but he was able to jog in from there as Hayden Dunhurst crushed a two-run home run to right field to make it a 7-4 Rebel lead with two to play.
Taylor Broadway handled it the rest of the way for Ole Miss, as the Rebel closer went the final 2.1 innings to close out the Tigers on the mound and earn his SEC-high 13th save of the season.
The Rebels advance to the double-elimination portion of the tournament and will face No. 4 seed Vanderbilt in Game 8 of the tournament, the final game of the day on Wednesday. First pitch will be at approximately 8 p.m. CT on SEC Network.
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- Ole Miss improved to 39-17 on the season and 42-41 all-time in the SEC Tournament.
- The Rebels advance to face No. 4 seed and reigning SEC Tournament champion Vanderbilt.
- Ole Miss is now 7-0 in SEC games this year in which both Taylor Broadway and Doug Nikhazy pitch.
- Broadway also tied the Ole Miss single-season save record with 13, matching Stephen Head's career mark set in 2003 with 13 saves.
- Kevin Graham increased his reached-base streak to 49 games and has reached in 54 of 56 games this season.
- Justin Bench hit just the second inside-the-park home run in SEC Tournament history and the first since Kentucky's Chad Green in 1996.
- Bench extended his hitting streak to seven games and has reached base in 13 straight. - Jacob Gonzalez recorded his team-leading 24th multi-hit game.
- Gonzalez is also hitting over .500 since becoming the Rebels' three-hole hitter, with seven extra base hits and 12 RBI in eight games played.
- Gonzalez also recorded his second career four-hit game, tying his career high, as part of a 4-for-5 day at the plate.
- Doug Nikhazy notched his seventh straight outing with 6.0 innings or more. He has struck out seven or more batters in nine of his 10 starts against SEC competition.
- Ole Miss reached double-figure hits for the 32nd time this season.