HOOVER, Ala. – The day hadn’t gone so well for Matt Cerione, but when he guessed right on a curve ball things improved significantly.
Cerione’s sixth-inning grand slam produced a rally in one swing, something No. 7 Ole Miss was unable to do in nine innings, and sixth-seeded Georgia dropped the third-seeded Rebels into the loser’s bracket of the SEC tournament with a 6-3 win before a first-session crowd of 5,161 at Regions Park.
The Rebels (40-16), hoping to earn one of eight national seeds for next week’s NCAA tournament, could use a good showing here to solidify their case. Now they play Eastern Division champ Florida today in an elimination game at 10 a.m.
Ole Miss, a team built on “small ball,” struggled in that area, getting thrown out trying to steal third base, failing to execute a squeeze bunt and going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
The Rebels totaled 10 hits – all singles – plus six walks and two hit-batters while stranding 13 base-runners.
“It was not that we couldn’t get the grand slam like Cerione, because obviously that’s not us. We didn’t get the base hit or the double, the two-out hit that we’ve gotten most of the year we didn’t get today,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
Senior catcher Kyle Henson was 3-for-5 and had his team’s only run-scoring hit, a single to center field in the seventh.
Ole Miss also scored on a wild pitch in the fifth inning for a 1-0 lead and on David Phillips’ sacrifice fly in the sixth.
The Rebels had eight hits against Georgia right-hander Justin Grimm, but Grimm kept them from the big inning. So too did four different relief pitchers, who ran in and out of the game as Georgia coach Dave Perno deemed matchups favorable.
“We’ve been pretty good at that, getting tough outs. We have some can do some different things and have some options to create the matchups we want,” Perno said.
Bianco liked the curve ball of starter Drew Pomeranz against Cerione, who had not gotten off a good swing all day. Cerione struck out on three pitches in the first and drew a full-count walk in the fourth. This time he fouled off the first pitch, a curve ball, and Pomeranz went to the well again.
“He threw the first curve ball, and I fouled it off. I was just trying to keep my legs under me,” Cerione said. “I thought he might come back with it, and he did. He got the better of me today, but I did get off one big swing.”
Pomeranz was dominant early with four strikeouts in the first two innings. He sat the Bulldogs (36-20) down in order his first time through the lineup.
As he labored his strikeouts became fly ball outs, and the Rebels were leading 1-0 when Cerione struck.
“He cut us up for the first three innings,” Perno said.
Ultimately Pomeranz, who hasn’t pitched more than 6 1-3 innings since going for nine at Florida on April 17, was pulled after 5 1-3 innings. He allowed five hits, four runs, all earned, struck out six and walked three. Nathan Baker finished the game for Ole Miss, giving up four hits and two runs over 3 2-3 innings and striking out seven.
“Sometimes you out-hit them but they get the big hits. Certainly Cerione’s grand slam was huge and the difference-maker in the game. Drew was cruising until that inning,” Bianco said.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal