Ole Miss stuns LSU with two Saturday wins to capture SEC series
It might have been a beautiful day for baseball Saturday in Alex Box Stadium if LSU had decided to show up and play.
But the 17th ranked Tigers, winners of three straight SEC series, had their season-long major weaknesses rear their ugly heads again. It resulted in a pair of defeats and a stunning series loss to Ole Miss that dropped LSU from third place to fifth in conference play in one week left in the regular season.
Lousy starting pitching and ill-timed fielding errors opened the door for the Rebels to score wins of 5-3 in Saturday morning’s resumption of Friday’s rain delayed series opener immediately followed by a 11-1 game two blowout Saturday afternoon.
The Rebels, winners of five straight league games to improve to 30-19 overall and 12-14 in the SEC, won their second consecutive road series over LSU in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1964 and 1965. The third and final game is Sunday at 1 p.m. as Ole Miss tries to sweep the Tigers on their home field for the first time ever in history between the rivals.
Ole Miss game one starting pitcher Dylan DeLucia and game two starter Hunter Elliott combined for 13.2 innings, allowing seven hits and one run (earned) with each hurler recording nine strikeouts.
LSU game one starter Ma’Khail Hilliard (5-1) and game two starter Devin Fontenot (2-2) lasted a combined 4.1 innings, giving up six hits and seven runs (all earned).
The absence of LSU’s leading hitter Jacob Berry, recovering from a broken finger he sustained during pregame infield practice before last Friday’s series opener at Alabama, was noticeable. LSU’s 2-0 advantage in the first inning of the series opener vs. Ole Miss was the only time the Tigers (33-17, 14-12 SEC) led in games one and two.
Four of eight LSU pitchers – one in game one and three in game two – gave up five home runs to Ole Miss including two by Rebels’ first baseman Tim Elko.
Elko’s fifth-inning solo homer off LSU reliever Ty Floyd (the only Tigers’ pitcher to throw well in the first two games) provided Ole Miss with its final run of its game one win. Then, he and left fielder Kevin Graham hit consecutive two-out first-inning home runs off Fontenot to jumpstart the Rebels in game two.
There were also the usual “what ifs” concerning LSU’s fielding since the Tigers lead the SEC in errors.
In the series opener, Hilliard had two outs on Ole Miss in the Rebels’ second when right fielder John Kramer kept a rally alive by reaching first base on a wild pitch that would have been an inning-ending strikeout if catcher Tyler McManus had been able to field the pitch.
Hilliard then imploded, giving up a walk and a two-RBI single to catcher Hayden Dunhurst and an RBI single by shortstop Jacob Gonzales for a 4-2 Ole Miss lead.
In Saturday’s second game, LSU was trailing 5-0 with one out in the Ole Miss fourth when Tigers’ pitcher Blake Money induced a potential inning-ending double play grounder from Elko to second baseman Cade Doughty.
But Doughty committed his 13th error of the season as a run scored. Money then allowed a two-run double and an RBI single in a five-run rally that gave the Rebels a 9-0 lead.
Friday night’s game was stopped because of a lighting delay as LSU started its at-bats in the bottom of third after Hilliard got through a scoreless Ole Miss third.
When the game resumed Saturday at 11 a.m., LSU coach Jay Johnson decided overnight to pull Hilliard in favor of reliever Ty Floyd while Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco stuck with starter DeLucia.
While Floyd gave up just two hits and one run in six superb innings, DeLucia and reliever Brandon Johnson combined for a three-hitter.
DeLucia allowed a first-inning two-run homer by center fielder Dylan Crews, shortstop Jordan Thompson’s solo leadoff homer in the eighth immediately followed by McManus' single that led to DeLucia’s exit.
Johnson entered and was perfect. He escaped the no-outs jam with a flyout by pinch-hitter Josh Stevenson and strikeouts by left fielder Gavin Dugas and right fielder Josh Pearson and then retired LSU in order in the Tigers’ final at-bat in the ninth.
DeLucia (5-0), a junior college transfer in his first-year with the Rebs, retired 18 of 19 batters starting Friday night after Crews’ home run stretching until Thompson’s eighth inning homer on Saturday. He finished with three earned runs allowed with nine strikeouts and two walks in seven innings.
Elliott, the current SEC Freshman of the Week, silenced the Tigers in game two. He went 6.2 innings, allowing four hits and a run.