HOOVER, Ala. – With a likely top-five draft pick on the mound, three runs were enough for Ole Miss in the SEC tournament opener.
But with Drew Pomeranz’ time at Regions Park complete, the Rebels needed more scoring and didn’t get it.
Alabama junior right-hander Nathan Kilcrease came within two outs of his second complete game in two weeks against Ole Miss, leaving in the ninth to a standing ovation, as the Crimson Tide dropped the Rebels into the loser’s bracket with a 6-3 victory Thursday.
Ole Miss (37-21), which won 3-0 against No. 10-ranked South Carolina Wednesday, faces elimination against Auburn today at 3 p.m.
Physically unimposing at 5-foot-6, 160 pounds, Kilcrease tossed a complete game against Ole Miss on May 16 in Tuscaloosa, scattering five hits and three runs in the decisive game in the series.
In the encore performance he didn’t allow a run until the seventh when the Tide (36-21) was already ahead 4-0.
Kilcrease finished with nine hits and three strikeouts. He hasn’t walked a batter in his last 252/3 innings, and after back-to-back singles by Matt Snyder and Matt Smith in the first, Kilcrease retired the next 17 men he faced.
Smith broke the streak with a one-out double in the seventh.
“He commands all three pitches, and he was really dominant,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “When he set down 17 in a row, it allowed our offense to get going, and we were able to execute some things in our bunt game.”
Ole Miss starter Aaron Barrett didn’t allow a run until the fifth, but the Tide tacked on two more in the sixth on three hits, two of them on the infield. One infield hit was a soft chopper that Barrett bobbled while back-pedaling off the mound. Another was a bunt that no one was able to field.
Alabama also had a one-out RBI triple by seven-hole hitter Jon Kelton.
“When you’re not swinging well and not scoring, all defensive plays that you don’t make are magnified,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “Aaron competed hard and gave us chances.”
The Rebels failed to reach four runs for the eighth time in their last 10 SEC games. Since posting consecutive sweeps against LSU and Mississippi State, Ole Miss has averaged 2.7 runs in 11 SEC games.
Barrett says that doesn’t impact his performance.
“Even though our hitting is struggling, it’s my job to make pitches and control what I can control,” he said.
Barrett finished with nine hits, four walks, five strikeouts and four runs in six innings.
Kilcrease gave up a solo home run to Miles Hamblin in the eighth, Hamblin’s second home run of the tournament, and showed signs of tiring in the ninth.
After Taylor Hashman posted the Rebels’ third hit of the inning, it was 6-3, and Ole Miss had the tying run at the plate with one out.
Alabama third baseman Jake Smith came on and retired the next two batters. He got Hamblin to pop-up in foul territory and Kevin Mort to strikeout looking.
The day belonged to Kilcrease, and Alabama fans serenaded him upon his departure.
Ole Miss players were left wondering what it will take to get the offense going again.
“Yesterday we did a better job of getting runners in scoring position,” said Matt Smith, who was 3 for 4 with two runs scored. “Today in the first couple of innings our swings were good, but it’s a process. We have to focus and keep it together for a whole game.”
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal