Defensive meltdown: Ole Miss eliminates sixth-seeded LSU in first round of SEC Tournament

Tigers will have to wait until Sunday to learn NCAA Tournament fate

LSU center fielder Ciara Briggs (88) records an out Wednesday during the SEC Tournament against Ole Miss. The Tigers lost 5-3 in 10 innings. PHOTO BY: LSU athletics

A mid-game defensive collapse helped to lead to LSU’s demise and a well-placed home run in extra innings finished off the Tigers.

No. 11 Ole Miss turned LSU’s season-high four errors into three runs, and Paige Smith’s two-run homer in the top of the 10th sent the Rebels to a 5-3 first-round victory Wednesday over the sixth-seeded Tigers in the single-elimination SEC Tournament at the University of Arkansas’ Bogle Park.

LSU (40-15), which exited the tournament for the second straight year in the first round, must wait for an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament at 6 p.m. Sunday when the NCAA Selection Committee unveils its 64-team field on ESPN2.

Ole Miss (30-25) became the fourth No. 11 team to advance in the tournament and faces No. 3 Auburn (39-16) in Thursday’s quarterfinal round at 11 a.m.

“Ole Miss does a good job of putting pressure on you,” LSU softball coach Beth Torina said. “We had a similar situation when we were at Ole Miss without Taylor (Pleasants). They run well, they put the ball in play, they bunt a lot and move their runners up. They just create pressure, and you just have to be solid on defense. You need to forget the lead runners and trail runners and just get the outs. I know it sounds cliche but just be the first one to 21 outs, and we didn’t do a good job of that.”

Graduate student Ali Kilponen (13-7) suffered the loss in relief of starter Sydney Berzon, taking over with the game tied at 3-all in the top of the seventh. She breezed along until a lead-off single from Tate Whitley in the 10th and Smith followed with a two-run homer – a 1-1 pitch that was about a foot fair and caromed off the top of the fence.

Berzon allowed five hits in six innings and struck out seven without a walk.

Ole Miss countered with a defense that made only one error and got 17 outs combined from Jalia Lassiter in center and Whitley in left. The Rebels also turned in several sterling defensive plays in support of winning pitcher Aynslie Furbush (9-6), capped by Lassiter tracking down Ali Newland’s deep drive for the final out.

Furbush worked 5.1 scoreless innings with two walks.

“Our outfield, those guys can cover from ground whether it’s balls on the ground or in the air,” Ole Miss coach Jamie Trachsel. “They were stealing hits, not making routine plays. We know if the ball’s in the air they’re going to make the play.”

LSU, tied for the No. 1 defensive team in the SEC, overcame its earlier defensive lapses to tie the game with two runs in the fifth.

The Tigers picked up consecutive infield singles from Savannah Stewart (2-for-4) and Ciara Briggs when Taylor Pleasants lined a 1-0 pitch past a diving Lassiter, a ball that got to the wall and scored Stewart and Briggs to tie the game.

It turned out to be the Tigers’ final hit of the game.

Defensive miscues were the culprit in LSU losing the handle on an early 1-0 lead, allowing three unearned runs and trailed 3-1 in the fifth.

The Rebels scored twice in the third, taking advantage of two errors and a two-base passed ball, for a 2-1 lead.

Lexie Brady reached on a lead-off fielding error by third baseman Danieca Coffey and hustled all the way to third on a passed ball when Coffey couldn’t hold onto Newland’s throw from behind the plate.

Ole Miss tied it at 1-1 when Pleasants threw Lassiter’s grounder wide of the plate trying to get Brady. Whitley then beat out a bunt, took advantage of a lapse from Berzon with the ball in the circle and continued to second base ahead Berzon’s throw.

That signaled Lassiter to take off and score from third with the second run of the inning.

Ole Miss added another unearned run in the fifth when LSU committed two more errors. Lassiter scored when Berzon wasn’t able to field what would have been the third out of the inning, a grounder off the bat of Whitley, and benefited from Karli Petty’s wide throw of home.

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William Weathers

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