STARKVILLE — A crowd of 13,338 at Dudy Noble Field roared to life when Brayland Skinner lashed No. 4 Mississippi State’s first hit of Saturday’s game against No. 6 Ole Miss up the middle with one out in the fifth inning.
As Brad Cumbest dug in against Rebels starter Doug Nikhazy, a call-and-response “Maroon!” “White!” chant began amidst the Bulldog faithful. With the Bulldogs trailing 8-0, the 11th-largest crowd in the history of Dudy Noble hoped a rally was on the way.
It wasn’t to be. Cumbest flied to left on Nikhazy’s second offering, and Dubrule grounded into a forceout to end the inning. The crowd quieted.
Skinner’s hit was the only knock Mississippi State recorded.
“It just didn’t happen today,” center fielder Rowdey Jordan said.
The Bulldogs (26-8, 9-5 SEC) were stymied Saturday, held to just one hit by Ole Miss starter Doug Nikhazy in a 9-0 loss to the No. 6 Rebels (26-9, 9-5) Saturday in Starkville. Nikhazy struck out 12 in a complete-game performance for the visitors from Oxford as the Bulldogs’ nine-game winning streak was snapped.
“He’s one of the better arms in our league and the country,” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said. “He got a lead, and he took that lead and he just jammed it down our throats all day long.”
And while the junior from Florida flummoxed the Bulldogs, Ole Miss pounded out hit after hit against Will Bednar and a trio of Mississippi State relievers. Catcher Hayden Dunhurst had a game-high three hits, four other Rebels had two apiece, and Ole Miss finished with 17 hits in the shutout win.
“We got beat in every phase of the game today,” Lemonis said.
The Rebels scored in each of the first five innings, stretching the lead gradually. Dunhurst had an RBI double in the first inning, and Cael Baker had one in the second. A fielder’s choice in the third brought home another run.
Ole Miss doubled its lead in the fourth when Hayden Leatherwood led off with a home run to right center field, Jacob Gonzalez had a sac fly and Peyton Chatagnier had an RBI single.
Meanwhile, Nikhazy blazed his way through the Bulldogs. After walking a batter in the first, the lefty pitched three straight 1-2-3 innings before Skinner’s hit in the fifth. Another walk in the sixth preceded another three perfect frames as he closed out the ballgame.
“He pitched really well, and you tip your hat to him,” Jordan said. “You move on.”
As a whole, the Bulldogs’ pitchers couldn’t say the same. Bednar was tagged for seven hits and six runs in three-plus innings of work, missing over the plate when he could least afford it. Cam Tullar allowed two runs in three innings, and Mikey Tepper was charged with a run in two innings.
Former weekend starter Eric Cerantola navigated a scoreless ninth inning after a leadoff free pass, an encouraging sign for the junior from Ontario, Canada.
“I thought he was pretty good,” Lemonis said. “He walked the first guy, but I thought he was good after that.”
Of course, Cerantola’s effort was for naught as the Bulldogs went down in order once again in the ninth. After getting right fielder Tanner Allen to chase for his 12th and final punchout, Nikhazy stood next to the mound, arms outstretched, waiting for his teammates to greet him as Allen slowly walked back to the third-base dugout.
It was a wholly different dynamic from the Bulldogs’ 5-2 win over the Rebels on Friday.
“We felt like a million bucks last night, and they were pissed,” Lemonis said. “Now we’re the ones that are pissed.”
But Mississippi State still has a chance to win the series with a victory in Sunday’s rubber match, which is set for a 1 p.m. start. Lemonis said the Bulldogs will rebound from Saturday’s tough loss.
“I think they’ll come out, they’ll be ready to go with a lot of energy, and I would imagine we’ll have another full ballpark,” he said. “They’ll be ready to play. There’s no doubt about that.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.