LSU runs out of gas in SEC Tournament Finals as Ole Miss rolls 9-1

HOOVER, Ala. — The magic carpet ride ended with a crash landing for LSU at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

It took a miraculous run through the loser’s bracket for LSU to make into a championship game matchup with Ole Miss, winning four elimination games and bouncing the two highest-ranked teams in the league along the way, but the toll of those wins was exacted Sunday.

An overworked, undermanned pitching staff finally blinked and the LSU offense finished an anemic 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position as Ole Miss rolled 9-1 to capture the SEC Tournament in front of a crowd of 14,126, the largest amassed for a championship game at the Hoover Met since 1999.

“Today wasn’t out day,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said rather succinctly. “Ole Miss played great. We didn’t play as well as we can play.”

Mainieri was denied what would have been his record-tying seventh SEC Tournament crown and second in a row. Mainieri had never lost in the tournament’s championship game before Sunday.

Still, LSU (37-25) will undoubtedly return to Baton Rouge with its heads held high and possessing a renewed confidence about its NCAA Tournament chances. The Tigers came to Hoover just looking for a win or two to lock up an NCAA bid and clawed their way to playing for a championship.

“As much as you don’t want to admit it as a player, it’s tiring,” Antoine Duplantis said. “You’ve got rain delays and late nights, so it’s tough, but I think it was good that we had this experience though because regional can be a grind as well. I think we got some real positive things moving forward.”

They’re the first team under the current format to play in a single elimination game on Tuesday and then make it to the final game. LSU bested two lock national seeds in Florida and Arkansas along the way after knocking off Mississippi State and South Carolina, who came to Hoover as two of the hottest teams in the league.

“We’re not going to play any better teams in a regional or super regional than we did this week,” Duplantis said. “Coming together to beat some really good teams, I think that’s just a positive in itself.”

But playing for a sixth time in as many days, a pitching staff that had worked miracles while running on fumes finally buckled against an Ole Miss (46-15) club headed for a national seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“We were shorthanded to start with, and playing six games in six days, that taxes your staff,” Mainieri said. “But at the same time, because of some very heroic performances, we were able to hang in there with a really limited staff. What I was really concerned about today was just nobody getting hurt. I didn’t want to over-extend anybody.”

LSU had to thank its lucky starts not to find itself in a sizeable early hole given the way Ole Miss was hitting lasers all over the yard against Caleb Gilbert. The Tigers actually drew first blood on first inning doubles from Duplantis and Daniel Cabrera.

The right-hander was tagged for nine hits and hit two batters in three-plus innings of work, but good fortune — Ole Miss shortstop Grae Kessinger pulled his hamstring on a hit-and-run in the first and got doubled off — and a pick-me-up from Cam Sanders limited the damage to three runs.

Sanders was brilliant for the third time in five days. He inherited a first-and-third mess from Gilbert in the fourth and limited the damage to just one run. He allowed just an infield hit and struck out four in three innings to LSU within two.

LSU had its golden opportunity in the sixth, but Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco made the aggressive move of bringing lefty ace Ryan Rolison in out of the bullpen. Rolison found himself in a bases loaded jam with one out but fanned Jake Slaughter and Hal Hughes to extinguish the threat.

That’s when Ole Miss broke the game open.

Devin Fontenot came on for the seventh but didn’t clearly didn’t have his usual juice. A single and a walk got the inning going, and after a wild pitch, Ole Miss center fielder Will Golsan smoked a two-run single to right that provided Rolison with breathing room.

“Once the game got like it was, I didn’t want to run anymore risk of injury out there,” Mainieri said. “It’s tough, but that’s the advantage you get of having a good regular season, you don’t have to play on Tuesday. We had to play on Tuesday because that is what we earned. That taxed out staff as compared to some other teams, and (Ole Miss) in particular, so they had a bit more quality to go to.”

Right fielder Tim Rowe followed with a two-run blast to straightaway center field off Trent Vietmeier, and the result wasn’t in doubt from that point on. Pinch hitter Michael Fitzsimmons added on in the ninth with a two-run bomb to left off Clay Moffitt.

LSU will bus home to Baton Rouge on Sunday night and regroup Monday to learn their NCAA Regional destination. The NCAA Selection Show begins at 11 a.m. CT.

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James Moran
James Moran was Editor of Tiger Rag from August 2018 to October 2019. He previously served as the associate editor since 2014. He is a graduate of the LSU Manship School of Journalism.
About James Moran 1377 Articles
James Moran was Editor of Tiger Rag from August 2018 to October 2019. He previously served as the associate editor since 2014. He is a graduate of the LSU Manship School of Journalism.

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