By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – One step forward, one step back for the Ole Miss offense.
LSU junior right-hander Ben Alsup, making only his second start in 16 appearances, came within three at-bats of a perfect game, as the No. 8-seeded Tigers eliminated No. 6 Ole Miss 8-0 in the first game of the Saturday semifinals at the SEC tournament.
The game was delayed 90 minutes by morning storms, and before the 11 a.m., first pitch, tournament officials announced that all games would be shortened to seven innings.
Ole Miss (38-22) is not expected to be among 16 NCAA tournament regional host sites announced today. The Rebels will learn their postseason destination during the tournament selection show on ESPN Monday at 11:30 a.m.
A Regions Park crowd heavy with LSU fans watched Alsup carry a no-hitter into fifth inning when Matt Smith led off with an infield single.
Smith also walked with two outs in the top of the seventh. The only other Ole Miss baserunner was Miles Hamblin, who walked with one out in the third. None of them reached second base.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco criticized his team’s energy level following Friday night’s 10-7 win over Auburn that was seen as coming out of sorts for the Rebels’ offense.
Ole Miss starting pitcher Rory McKean, a middle reliever all season, lasted 22/3 innings, giving up five hits, four runs, three of them earned. McKean pitched 12/3 innings Thursday against Alabama.
“I would hate to think anybody on our team was content with three games left in the tournament,” Bianco said. “It was important for us to grab a lead early, get Rory on a roll putting up zeros against a team swinging it as well as anybody. When that didn’t happen it knocked a lot of wind out of us early.”
Alsup began the day with a 4.30 earned run average and an opponents’ batting average of .300. He had given up more than two earned runs in an appearance just twice, one of those against Alcorn State on April 6 when he allowed five earned runs in six innings in his only previous start.
Bianco said his players swung through some fastballs early in the game then began to chase breaking pitches. That allowed Alsup to build momentum.
“He got ahead in the count a majority of the time and mixed things up,” Smith said. “We don’t think this is a step back for our offense. It was just one of those days.”
Throwing strikes and staying in the game as long as he could were primary goals for Alsup, as he pitched the Tigers (39-20) into the SEC tournament championship game for a third-straight season.
“I had to throw strikes,” he said. “Our defense has been phenomenal, and we were going to score runs.”
Ole Miss was shut out for the third time this season. The Rebels were held to three runs or fewer for seventh time in their last nine games, the ninth time in their last 12 within the SEC. They defeated Arkansas State 5-2 on May 12.
“It was a disappointing day for us,” Bianco said. “This is not to take anything away from Alsup, but we were a tick late on all pitches it seemed. We didn’t get to fastballs early in the count, and we chased breaking pitches. We made it easy on him.”