By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – As it turned out, the one-run lead would have been enough.
Kentucky won an SEC series against Ole Miss in Oxford by twice erasing one-run deficits in the latter innings.
In an SEC tournament opening-day elimination game the No. 6-seeded Rebels gave themselves a little more breathing room, if only slightly, to win 4-1 and advance to face No. 3 seed Arkansas this morning at 9:30 at the Hoover Met.
Ole Miss starter Mike Mayers was strong on five days rest, and his relievers had his back.
Soft-throwing lefty Jeremy Massie pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, then allowed only a two-out walk in the eighth. Tanner Bailey pitched the ninth, allowing only a two-out single.
Mayers scattered six hits, walked one, struck out four, and the run he allowed was unearned.
“He had great fastball command on both sides of the plate. I thought that was key. When he can really pitch off his fastball, with all the left-handers, he needed a change-up or a slider, and he had both today,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
Mayers threw 105 pitches at LSU last Thursday and left Tuesday’s game at 100 pitches with runners first and second.
Massie’s first batter reached on a swinging bunt, fielded by Massie but with no play. He then stranded three runners, retiring pinch-hitter Zack Storm with a pop-up caught by Helsel on the outfield grass and catcher Michael Thomas with a ground ball.
“I was a little nervous coming in with runners on first and second,” Massie said. “I knew I had to come in and make some great pitches.”
Kentucky coach Gary Henderson said Massie did a good job of mixing his pitches.
The Rebels (37-20) were up 2-1 in the sixth when they stretched the lead on RBI hits from Auston Bousfield and Will Allen, the latter against Kentucky reliever Chandler Shepherd.
All four runs were charged to Kentucky starter Jerad Grundy, who is now 0-3 against Ole Miss for his career.
Kentucky (30-25) scored in the fourth on an apparent miscommunication at second base when Stuart Turner’s throw on a stolen base attempt reached center field.
Bianco began pondering the idea of Mayers as his SEC-opening starter after rain threw a wrench in his rotation during the Mississippi State series May 10-12.
At the dawn of postseason he was optimistic with Mayers, hopeful with his bullpen.
“We probably wouldn’t be sitting here (in an elimination game) today if we’d have pitched better out of the bullpen the last few weeks. Too many games have slipped out of our hands,” Bianco said.