Ole Miss pitcher Doug Nikhazy shouts toward his teammates in the dugout after an eighth inning strikeout. (MSU athletics)

STARKVILLE — On a sunny spring Saturday from jam-packed Dudy Noble Field after an 9-0 Ole Miss whitewash of Mississippi State, why write 700 words when just two will do?

Doug Nikhazy.

OK, you know we can’t just stop there. We have to attempt to put Nikhazy’s spectacular pitching performance in perspective. Start with this: It was the first complete game of the junior lefty’s college career, and it could not have come at a better time. We will get to that.

First, the numbers: Nikhazy allowed just one hit — Brayland Skinner’s fifth inning single up the middle. He struck out 11 Bulldog batters and walked only two. He was in complete and utter command throughout. He pounded the strike zone with pitch after pitch, mixing his fast ball with a nasty curve and an occasional slider. Rarely, if ever, will you see a better pitched game.

Meanwhile, Ole Miss hitters peppered State pitching for 17 hits, taking an 8-0 lead through five innings and then cruising behind Nikhazy, who never took anything for granted.

His mantra? “I couldn’t let them have an ounce of momentum,” Nikhazy said.

Mission accomplished.

Rick Cleveland

We all know how much momentum State had before Saturday, which was what made Nikhazy’s accomplishment all the more meaningful. The streaking Bulldogs had won eight straight games this season — seven straight in the SEC — and had won 15 of their last 17 over their arch-rivals.

Just a few hours earlier, State had defeated the Rebels 5-2 before a celebrative crowd, ending the night with a huge fireworks show. An announced crowd of 13,338 flooded into the pristine ballpark Saturday, probably 98% of them ready to continue the party. And then Nikhazy, now 4-1 with a 1.86 earned run average, turned out the lights. He struck out six straight batters over the first, second and third innings. He fanned eight of nine Bulldogs, if you throw in the fourth frame. He dominated.

Said State coach Chris Lemonis, “(Nikhazy) is one of the better arms in the league and the nation. He was really good. We never got anything.”

The only question was whether Nikhazy would finish the deal. He had thrown 112 pitches through eight innings. That’s a lot. Senior Tyler Myers was ready to go in the Rebel bullpen. Mike Bianco opted to send Nikhazy back out.

Later, Bianco explained his decision. “I don’t know how many times you get a chance to throw a shutout against your arch-rivals at their ballpark with one of the largest crowds in college baseball watching,” Bianco said. “He said he felt great. He was in control. …  The last three innings he really hit another gear. I wasn’t going to take that opportunity away from him.”

Nikhazy, making his fourth start since missing two weeks with a strained pectoral muscle, needed only 10 pitches to finish the Bulldogs off. By then, only about half of the original crowd was still around.

Said Bianco: “Doug will steal the headlines today and he should, but offensively we were really, really good. I’m really proud of guys.”

Expect another huge crowd Sunday at 1 p.m. for the rubber match of the three-game series that matches two of the nation’s best ball clubs. Ole Miss is now 26-9 overall, 9-5 in the SEC. State dropped to 26-8 and 9-5.

Sophomore right-hander Drew McDaniel (4-0, 2.90 ERA) will take the mound for Ole Miss. Freshman righty Jackson Fristoe (2-2, 4.14) will start for State.

Both teams know how quickly things can turn around in baseball. They’ve experienced it over an 18-hour stretch.

“We gotta play a lot better in every phase of the game,” Lemonis said. “We got beat in every phase of the game today.”

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.