By Randy Rosetta/Special to the Journal
BATON ROUGE, La. – Ups and downs are a big part of a baseball season and Ole Miss got a big dose of that reality on Sunday.
After erupting for 16 runs and 18 hits to even the weekend SEC series against LSU, the Rebels’ bats fizzled at Alex Box Stadium in an 8-2 loss.
Tigers senior Ben Alsup continued to be an Ole Miss nemesis, scattering seven singles and Matt Smith’s prodigious two-run homer in a strong eight-inning performance as LSU took the series two games to one.
With Sunday’s loss, the Rebels (19-10, 4-5 SEC) have lost 14 straight series in Baton Rouge, dating back to 1982.
“It was a disappointing effort for us (Sunday),” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “You can’t do that here (at LSU).”
Not with the way Alsup pitched, and not with the Tigers’ batters striking quickly and early to put the Rebels in an insurmountable 6-0 hole.
LSU (20-8, 3-6) pushed three runs home in the first, with two Ole Miss errors playing major roles.
Leadoff man Raph Rhymes whacked Austin Wright’s first pitch for a single, Wright threw away Tyler Hanover’s bunt and then walked Richton native JaCoby Jones to load the bases.
That brought up cleanup man Mikie Mahtook and he scorched a 3-and-1 pitch to third baseman Preston Overby, who fielded the ball on one hop, tagged third for an out but then threw wildly to first. That allowed Jones to score and moved Mahtook to third base. He scored on Austin Nola’s grounder for a 3-0 Tigers’ lead.
“We let them get three runs early and get the crowd into the game,” Bianco said. “They swung the bat well for a few innings.”
LSU got a solo homer from Alex Edward and two more runs in the third when Mahtook tripled in Jones and scored on Nola’s RBI base hit.
Smith closed the gap to 6-2 when he uncorked a two-run bomb off the scoreboard in left field after Blake Newalu bunted for a single to start the fourth inning. That was the second of Smith’s three hits and the only one that inflicted any damage against Alsup.
At the SEC Tournament last May, Alsup dominated the Rebels in an 8-0 victory in the semifinal round, allowing only an infield single in a seven-inning rout.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said Alsup “just wouldn’t let (Ole Miss) get a breath.”
“He made some extraordinarily big pitches during the course of this ballgame,” Mainieri said. “The tide could’ve been turned at certain times, but he got key outs.”
The Rebels only other threats came in the seventh when Taylor Hightower and Tanner Mathis stroked consecutive two-out singles – the only time all day Ole Miss got back-to-back hits – and in the eighth when Alsup walked Alex Yarbrough and Smith to start the inning.
Each time Alsup found a way out of trouble and added to Ole Miss’ frustration. The Rebels didn’t get a runner into scoring position until the sixth and went 0-for-5 in those situations.
Besides Smith and Mathis (2-for-5), no other Ole Miss hitter had more than one hit. The last five hitters in the batting order combined to go 2-for-19.
“When you mix up pitches to a good team like this, they start taking pitches and fouling them off and you have to stay in there and battle with them,” Alsup said.
Alsup did and won those battles to add a frustrating finish to the Rebels weekend.
Ole Miss is back in action at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday with a road trip to Memphis before hosting red-hot Georgia next weekend.