HOOVER, Ala. — The Ole Miss baseball team is one win away from a repeat.
Ole Miss eliminated a projected national seed from the SEC Tournament for the second time in two days, beating Georgia 5-3 to advance to the SEC Tournament championship game on Sunday. The Rebels have a chance to defend their title as tournament champions, one year removed from defeating LSU in the 2018 SEC Tournament final. Ole Miss (37-24) will either face LSU or Vanderbilt on Sunday.
Throughout the entire SEC Tournament, hitting had been at a premium for Ole Miss. Coming into Saturday, Ole Miss had three wins in Hoover despite only logging 18 hits and scoring nine runs. But the Rebels offense awoke Saturday versus one of the best starting pitchers in the conference, tagging the Bulldogs for five runs on 11 hits.
The Ole Miss bats slowly got to Georgia's All-SEC starting pitcher Emerson Hancock (1.31 ERA, .155 batting average against coming into Saturday), tagging him for one run in the third inning and two runs in the fourth inning before he left the game with a cut on his throwing hand. Prior to Saturday, Hancock had only allowed three runs in a start one time this season and never more.
Ole Miss' first run was manufactured, as the Rebels turned a leadoff single and stolen base from right fielder Anthony Servideo into a run thanks to a Jacob Adams sacrifice bunt and a Thomas Dillard RBI groundout. The runs in the fourth inning came with some aid from luck and alignment, as the Rebels put runners on first and second with no outs thanks to a Cole Zabowski single that beat the shift to where a shortstop would regularly play and a Ryan Olenek infield single that three Georgia players lost in the sun. Zabowski ultimately came around to score on a Kevin Graham RBI single, tying the score at 2-2, and Olenek scored on an RBI groundout from catcher Cooper Johnson.
After the Rebels allowed a game-tying third run in the top half of the fifth inning, shortstop Grae Kessinger powered the Rebels back into the lead in the bottom half with a two-run home run over the left field fence. The home run was Kessinger's fifth of the year, scoring Dillard. Ole Miss went on to load the bases with no outs in the fifth following Kessinger's home run but stranded all three runners.
Junior right-hander Houston Roth made his fourth start of the season, allowing three earned runs in 4.2 innings pitched. Roth struck out four batters and walked three, allowing his first two runs on a two-out, two-run home run in the second inning to open up scoring for the game.
Roth was removed with two outs in the fifth inning after allowing an RBI single to Georgia third baseman Aaron Schunk. The Rebels relieved Roth with Max Cioffi, who completed 1.1 shutout innings before giving way to senior Connor Green. Green recorded two outs and walked one batter before giving way to left-handed specialist Kaleb Hill, who retired to lefties with an inherited runner on base in the eighth inning before giving way to closer Parker Caracci, throwing for the third time in three days.
Caracci ended the eighth but found himself in trouble to lead off the ninth. He allowed a single to the leadoff man and walked the second batter he faced, putting two runners on. The Bulldogs sacrifice bunted those runners into scoring position for the first out, turning the lineup over to the top of the order. Caracci struck out centerfielder Tucker Maxwell swinging for the second out, bringing up left fielder Riley King. Caracci forced King to fly out, stranding two runners in scoring position and ending the game.
Ole Miss returns to action on Sunday at 2 p.m. for the SEC Tournament final against either Vanderbilt or LSU. The Rebels are 2-1 versus LSU this season and have not played Vanderbilt.
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.