Florida State baseball will take on Ole Miss tonight in the Oxford regionals. The Rebels took care of business with a 6-3 win over Southeast Missouri last night after the Seminoles’ 5-2 win over Southern Miss. Ole Miss has been a top-20 team for the entirety of the season. The Rebels are 42-19 and were 18-12 in the SEC. In the SEC tournament, Ole Miss fell in the semifinals after a 3-2 week.
This is the 10th time that Ole Miss is hosting a regional in Oxford. This is the 24th total time they’re in the NCAA Tournament. The Rebels have been in the NCAAT 17 of the last 20 seasons. Since 2014, Ole Miss is one of just eight schools to host at least five regionals. In their regionals, they’ve advanced six times. The Rebels have been to the College World Series five times and hold a 59-50 tournament record.
Ole Miss is 1-7 against the Seminoles all time. FSU and the Rebels haven’t played since 1995, when the ‘Noles topped the Rebels 13-1 in the Atlantic Regional title game.
Mike Bianco is in his 21st season as the Ole Miss head coach. Bianco was the National Coach of the Year in the shortened 2020 season after the Rebels opened the season 16-1. In his time at Ole Miss, he’s compiled a .638 winning percentage. Bianco is the longest tenured and winningest active coach in the SEC. The Seminole, Florida native is the winningest coach in program history. Bianco has taken the Rebels to Omaha once.
The Rebels have been dominant at home this season. After last night’s win, Ole Miss is 28-9 at Swayze Field this season. They have been dominant when getting ahead early, winning 25 of 31 games in which they’ve scored first. When leading after seven innings, they’re a perfect 32-0. In one-run games, they’re 8-7. When holding teams to five runs or less, they’re 30-6.
Florida State and Ole Miss will play at 6:00 PM ET tonight on ESPN2. FSU will be the home team. Here is a look at the key contributors for the Rebels:
Ole Miss has been one of the best offensive teams in the country this season. Entering the tournament, the Rebels were sixth in the country in runs scored. Ole Miss was top five in the SEC in hits, batting average, walks, runs per game, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and doubles. The Rebels have scored 8+ runs in 26 games and double digits in 16 games. Five of their starting nine are hitting .300+. Another three are hitting .275+. As a team, they’re hitting .292 with a .389 OBP and a .458 SLG%. Ole Miss doesn’t run much, as they have just 41 stolen bases. In the field, they’ve compiled a .974 fielding percentage.
Tim Elko is the headliner for Ole Miss. Elko has been the Rebels’ captain the last two years and was a preseason All-American. Elko tore his ACL on April 5th, but return to action just a month later. In his last nine games, he has four home runs as the Rebels’ designated hitter. Elko is hitting .329 with a .444 OBP. The designated hitter is tied for a team-high 14 homers and leads the team with a .679 SLG%. He’s third on the team with 48 RBI. Elko set Swayze Field on fire with a third inning grand slam last night. The fire was promptly put to rest with a beer shower in right field.
Jacob Gonzalez has been Ole Miss’ most consistent hitter this year. Gonzalez leads the team with a .353 average and has the highest qualified OBP at .436. He also leads the way with 85 hits and 62 runs scored, both a conference high in the SEC. Gonzalez has also slugged 23 extra base hits, including ten homers, for a .535 SLG%. The freshman has more free passes than strikeouts. Gonzalez leads the team with 16 multi-RBI games and 25 multi-hit games. At shortstop he has a .934 FLD% and 13 errors.
Kevin Graham is an on-base machine in the middle of the Ole Miss order. Graham has reached base In 54 consecutive games. Graham is also tied for the team lead with 14 home runs. Graham is second on the team in multi-hit and multi-RBI games. He is also second on the team with a .578 SLG% and .342 average. Like Gonzalez, he has more free passes than strikeouts. Graham leads the team with 52 RBI and 14 doubles. The junior will likely hit fourth.
Justin Bench, who played high school baseball with Parker Messick, is hitting .315 with a .431 on-base percentage. Bench has 14 extra base hits, including six homers. Bench was the All-SEC 2nd team 3B. He leads the team with 13 stolen bases and is the 5th toughest player to strike out in the SEC. Bench is third in the country with 25 HBP’s. TJ McCants is another Florida native hitting .300+ for the Rebels. McCants is hitting .318 five homers. McCants was a member of the 2021 All-SEC Freshmen team. He’s 2nd on the team with 10 stolen bases.
On the mound, the Rebels have talent, but lack much depth. As a staff, Ole Miss has a 4.42 ERA and .244 average against. Ole Miss lost their Friday starter Gunnar Hoglund to Tommy John surgery a couple weeks ago. With Hoglund out, Ole Miss has just four pitchers with 20+ IP and an ERA under 5.09. The Rebels don’t have much depth, but FSU will face one of the best arms in the country tonight.
Florida State will walk into Doug Day at Swayze Field tonight. Doug Nikahzy will start for the Rebels. Nikhazy is a First Team All-American and First Team All-SEC member. He is one of just four two-time All-Americans at Ole Miss. In SEC play, Nikhazy had a 1.67 ERA and a .182 opponent’s batting average. Ole Miss won eight of nine games that the southpaw started in conference play. He had a 0.97 WHIP and 4.47 K-BB ration against SEC teams. He has six starts with double digit strikeouts. The Windermere native has allowed two ER or less in 11 of 13 starts. Ole Miss has won his last five starts.
Nikhazy is a junior that stands 6’0 and weighs 205 pounds. Nikhazy has a cross-fire delivery that gives hitters fits. He also hides the ball well behind his back hip before firing from straight over the top. The southpaw has a high-80’s to low-90’s fastball. He works off his two breaking balls. Nikhazy possesses a tight low to mid-80’s slider and a big 12-6 curveball in the mid-80’s. The junior can throw both breaking pitchers in any count and keeps hitters consistently guessing.
Doug Nikhazy's 3 Pitch Curveball sequence for his 10th K.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 15, 2021
Nikhazy: "F Yeah I'm throwing another curveball. And you can't do anything with it." pic.twitter.com/5JFkk5pD3z
If it’s a close game late, the Seminoles will see Taylor Broadway come out of the Ole Miss bullpen. Broadway set the Ole Miss single-season record with his 14th save of the season last night. Broadway needed just 17 pitches to record a five-out save with three strikeouts. The right-handed pitcher has a 2.74 ERA in 42.2 IP. He has a .230 average against and 58 strikeouts. He’s walked just nine batters. Broadway can run his FB into the mid-90’s. His out pitch is a wipeout slider in the mid-80’s.
Ole Miss could also use Brandon Johnson out of the pen. Johnson has a 3.54 ERA in 20.1 IP. He’s allowed a .238 average against and struck out 25 batters. Wes Burton has a 3.57 ERS in 15 appearances and 17.2 IP. He’s struck out 31 batters and held opponents to a .188 average, but walked 13.