Arizona’s journey to Omaha, if it manages to get there, is going to take at least one more game.
The Wildcats were crushed 12-3 by Ole Miss on Saturday night at Hi Corbett Field, evening their best-of-3 Super Regional series at one game apiece. Game 3 is set for 6 p.m. PT on Sunday, with the winner advancing to the College World Series.
“We’re fine, we’ll be ready to go tomorrow,” UA coach Jay Johnson said. “To have one game to play, on our field, with this team, to go to the College World Series, I’ll take it 1,000 times out of 1,000. I feel good about it.”
If momentum is something that carries over, then Ole Miss (45-21) holds the edge after dominating Arizona (44-16) in all areas in Game 2.
A crowd of 7,450—the second-largest in school history—saw the Rebels pound out 16 hits, making Garrett Irvin look like a batting practice pitcher rather than the guy who threw a 3-hit shutout against UC Santa Barbara a week earlier and got #Gary trending. Irvin (6-3) lasted only 1.1 innings, allowing seven runs and seven hits.
Normally a rough outing from its starter wouldn’t be that big a deal for the UA, considering its potent offense. But Ole Miss left-hander Doug Nikhazy held the Wildcats in check for 5.1 innings, striking out 10—the second-most by an opposing pitcher this season—while allowing only two runs and six hits.
The UA struck out 16 times, the second-most in a game this year, and were 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position. It had 18 Ks in the 11-inning loss at Stanford on May 7.
Ole Miss led four pitches into the bottom of the first, compliments of a Jacob Gonzalez home run off the Terry Francona Hitting Center in right. The real damage came in the second, though, when the Rebels plated six runs and ended Irvin’s night.
Six of the seven batters he faced in the second reached safely, including the last six. RBI singles by Hayden Dunhurst and John Rhys Plumlee—a quarterback that was recruited to Ole Miss by Rich Rodriguez—made it 3-0, then Gonzalez doubled home two runs before Peyton Chatagnier rocked the next pitch for a 2-run homer. Irvin allowed another single after that before getting pulled for Austin Smith.
“We recruited him, and I wish he was at Arizona,” Johnson said of Gonzalez, a freshman from California who was 3 for 4 with 3 RBI.
Arizona spent the first two innings at the plate working the count against Nikhazy, making him throw 54 pitches to the first eight batters. But down 7-0, the UA started to become more aggressive. That paid off in the fourth when the Wildcats got three hits and scored twice on RBI singles from Tony Bullard and Ryan Holgate.
But Tanner O’Tremba and Nik McClaughry followed with 3-pitch strikeouts, upping Nikhazy’s tally to eight.
“That’s what makes him so special, he’s able to get off the field,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
Ole Miss got those runs back and then some in the top of the fifth, scoring three of Smith to make it 10-2, then got two more in the fifth against Quinn Flanagan.
Arizona pushed Nikhazy out of the game one out into the sixth after Bullard and O’Tremba walked, upping his pitch count to 122. His replacement, righty Austin Miller, struck out McClaughry and Bullard was thrown out at third on the same play.
Miller threw the final 3.2 innings, keeping Ole Miss from having to use any of its other relievers including closer Taylor Broadway, who saved all three regional wins for the Rebels last weekend.
Donta’ Williams, who earlier in the game extended his on-base streak to 46 games, homered on top of the Francona Center to lead off the seventh. He was 2 for 5 and is 10 for 23 in the postseason.
Arizona hasn’t announced a starting pitcher for Sunday—“yup” and “nope” were Johnson’s answers to if he knew who was starting and if he would reveal the name, respectively—but it’s likely to be freshman righty Chandler Murphy (7-0). Murphy, who allowed a run in five innings in the regional final against UC Santa Barbara last Sunday, has given up only four earned runs in his last 21.2 innings with 20 strikeouts.
Ole Miss will go with either righty Jack Dougherty or righty Drew McDaniel. McDaniel failed to get out of the first last Sunday against Southern Miss, allowing seven runs, while Dougherty threw the first four innings of the Rebels’ Monday win over Southern Miss and gave up two runs.
Arizona has only lost consecutive games to the same team once in 2021, dropping two in a row to Ball State in the middle of the season-opening series. It’s also had some of its best performances immediately after lopsided losses, including winning 10 in a row after falling 21-2 at Washington State in mid-April.
“We’ve had these struggles during the season and we know how to rebound from them,” first baseman Branden Boissiere said.