HOOVER, Ala. – Florida brought out the big bats to what was supposed to be a pitcher-friendly park.
The depth of pitching Ole Miss was supposed to be pretty good but looked thin without two key members.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the seventh-ranked team seeking a national seed, but the third-seeded Rebels made an early exit in a 12-2 run-rule loss to Florida Thursday on the second day of the SEC tournament at Regions Park.
“They just continued to hit throughout the game, and we didn’t have an answer for them on the mound,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “Yesterday was a different ballgame where we didn’t do enough things. Today was about how good Florida was, and that’s why we’re going home.”
Hoping to improve its chances for a top eight seeding in next week’s NCAA tournament, the Rebels now await Sunday’s 2:30 announcement of regional host sites. Word will come at NCAA.com and across the bottom line of ESPN networks.
The second-seeded Gators amassed 15 hits and three home runs against the Rebels (40-17), who began play as the No. 1 pitching staff in the SEC. Ole Miss made the trip without starter Scott Bittle and reliever Rory McKean.
The Rebels used four pitchers in the eight-inning game, none giving up fewer than two hits and two earned runs. Each of Florida’s (39-19) runs was earned.
This was not a game Ole Miss figured to win with two runs scored. The Rebels manufactured runs in the first and second innings, getting three of their seven hits then.
After that, Florida right-hander Anthony DeSclafini allowed only two more hits and retired 13 of the last 17 batters he faced before leaving with two outs in the sixth.
Ole Miss had 17 hits in two tournament games, all of them singles.
“We saw a lot of fastballs, but sometimes we didn’t get our best swing off, or we just missed it. That’s why we didn’t have any extra-base hits,” first baseman Matt Smith said.
As pleased as he was with his starter, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan praised right-hander Patrick Keating, who was not one of his earlier bullpen options most of the season. Keating gave up just two hits and no walks in 2 1/3 innings to continue the lock down on the Ole Miss offense.
“He’s a huge part of this staff. That’s what you count on a senior to do, to come in and stop their momentum,” O’Sullivan said.
Momentum was something the Gators didn’t really build until the fifth inning. They had hit two home runs in a 2-2 game through four innings, but Ole Miss starter Brett Bukvich had collected seven strikeouts during that same span.
The Gators sent eight to the plate and recorded three runs on five hits in the fifth. The big hit was a two-run opposite field single by lefty leadoff batter Avery Barnes. He had struggled with sliders from Bukvich previously and fanned in two at-bats.
“I figured if I could get it out there far enough he’d swing at it again. He did a good job of taking it the other way,” Bukvich said.
Avery’s hit finished up Bukvich. The Gators got one more in the inning and just stepped on the gas. David Goforth, Aaron Barrett and Jake Morgan also pitched for Ole Miss.
Outfielder Jonathan Pigott and first baseman Preston Tucker, batting back-to-back in the order, combined for five hits, three home runs – two by Pigott – and seven RBIs.
“Today it started off with Jordan Henry getting a hit, stealing a base, and Kyle Henson getting him in. It looked like more of us and what we’re able to do, but after the first two innings their pitcher shut us down,” Bianco said.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal