Photo Courtesy of Ole MIss Athletics

By Robert Wilson

       Mason Nichols was a part of three state championships when he was pitching at Jackson Prep and one national championship as a freshman at Ole Miss.

       Sunday afternoon, the Ole Miss junior right-hander was a huge part of why the Rebels ended a long losing series streak to Mississippi State.

       In only his second start of the season after 55 career relief appearances, Nichols allowed only four hits and one earned run in 6 1/3 innings to lead Ole Miss to a 14-2 victory over No. 22 MSU before a crowd of 10,052 at Ole Miss’ Swayze Field. 

The win clinched the deciding game of the three-game SEC baseball series, the first time since 2015 Ole Miss has won a regular season series against MSU.

       Nichols – who came in with a 3-0 record and a 3.68 earned run average this season – was solid and had the longest appearance of his career. He allowed an unearned run in the third inning and one run after he left the game in the seventh. Nichols struck out four and didn’t walk a batter.
       “Mason has been struggling all week with a sinus infection. He was under the weather and when he warmed up, he didn’t feel great,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said on Ole Miss’ postgame radio show with David Kellum and Brad Henderson. “His shoulder was tight, and he said, ‘I don’t feel like myself today, but I’m going to give you all I can.’ So we put guys in the bullpen in the first inning because we didn’t know what to expect. It shows you how talented he is and what a gutsy performance for a Mississippi kid, a Jackson Prep kid, to do it in this series. Mason was able to locate three different pitches. He was awesome today.”

Photo by Robert Smith

       “The nerves were always there,” Nichols said. “I really wanted to beat them, really bad. One of our core covenants is relentless. The first R in REBS, a little acronym, and we were relentless today and I try to do that on the mound. I love all these guys. I praise the Lord for this opportunity. He blessed me today. Coming out the bullpen I had to cut it short because I didn’t feel so great at the beginning. I do a lot of changeups to lefties, and I was pitching to contact like (Prep associate coach and former MSU and major league pitcher) Jay Powell tells me to. I was proud of that.”

       “Mason did an outstanding job today and look like he felt good on the mound despite not feeling well to start the game,” said Prep coach Brent Heavener, who coached Nichols at Prep. “I’m sure it helped having a familiar face behind the plate (former Prep catcher Eli Berch). That was the type of performance we are used to seeing from him. Just go out there and pitch like you know how and don’t try to overdo things. I thought he really pitched well today. Mason was a part of a pitching staff at Prep that had three SEC arms (Ole Miss teammate Riley Maddox and MSU redshirt freshman Will Gibbs). I can’t say enough about Mason and the type of person he is.  Mason is one of the smartest kids I’ve ever coached in my time at Jackson Prep. He is an outstanding young man the way he carries himself. And we couldn’t be prouder of the young man he has turned into and it’s fun to watch him pitch.”

       Nichols made his first start since high school last weekend at No. 1 ranked Arkansas. He allowed three hit and one run in 3 2/3 innings in a 7-4 loss last Sunday.

       Nichols led Ole Miss with four saves and was second with four wins last season as a sophomore. As a freshman on the national championship team, he was third on the team with 21 relief appearances and earned a win against Arizona in the regional, had 1 2/3 hitless innings against Arkansas in the College World Series and had two hitless innings with five strikeouts in Game 1 of the CWS finals against Oklahoma. 

       Nichols had a 6-1 record and a 0.85 ERA and made second team All-Metro Jackson as a senior at Prep.

       Ole Miss rallied for a 10-9 victory in 11 innings Saturday night in Game 2 to break an eight-game losing streak. The Rebels improved to 20-16 overall and 5-10 in the SEC, fifth place in the SEC West, after Sunday’s win. Ole Miss plays Alabama in a three-game SEC series, starting Thursday in Oxford. Alabama is 6-9 in the SEC, one game ahead of Ole Miss in the SEC West standings.