The ongoing SEC baseball tournament in Hoover, Alabama features some of the top teams in all of college baseball, and after two days of action the tournament's top seed is surprisingly looking at elimination while one of the last teams to get in has a chance to bolster their resume for the upcoming NCAA tournament significantly.
LSU, the top seeded team in the tournament and the second ranked team in the nation according to Baseball America, was upset 3-2 on Wednesday by seventh-seeded Mississippi State, who rode six solid innings and eight strikeouts from pitcher Chris Stratton to an unlikely victory that sets up a Thursday matchup for the Bulldogs with Kentucky.
The somewhat shocking loss sends the Tigers into an elimination game with ninth-seeded Ole Miss Thursday morning, who LSU played three times during the regular season, winning twice.
The Rebels played sub-.500 baseball in the SEC this season and were blanked 2-0 by Kentucky on Tuesday. Ole Miss bounced back, eliminating Arkansas from the tournament Wednesday by the same score thanks to a sterling outing from sophomore pitcher Mike Mayers and a very timely save by Junior right-hander Brett Huber, who tied the career saves record at Ole Miss with his 26th.
Granted, a loss for LSU on Thursday would be virtually meaningless (albeit slightly embarrassing) in the grand scheme of things, as not only are the Tigers a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament but they're also a virtual lock to play host during both the regional and super-regional rounds.
However, a victory by the Rebels (and deep run in the SEC tournament) would be a huge boost to the Rebels' resume so far as inclusion in the field of 64 is concerned. ESPN college baseball analyst Jeremy Mills stated Monday that "Ole Miss is safely in the NCAA tournament",
On the other hand, every year there are snubs in baseball just as in basketball, and a huge win over the nation's second-ranked team in the country would go a long way towards insuring such a shocker doesn't occur when the tournament's field is announced.
The Rebels have some reason to feel optimistic that they can pull off the upset. LSU took two of three from Ole Miss during a series earlier this month in Oxford, and while one of those games was a 12-3 pasting the other loss was a 13-inning 4-3 affair and the Rebels did down the Tigers 7-4 in the middle game of the set.
Ole Miss will surely need everything they can get and then some from likely starter R.J. Hively, who posted a 2.88 ERA in 11 starts this year while striking out 89 batters in 75 innings.
The Rebels could also use a surge from their offense, led by senior Matt Snyder, who led Ole Miss in RBI and total bases while finishing second in home runs and slugging percentage.
Even then it may take a lucky bounce or two for the Rebels to down the Tigers and advance towards what they hope will be an NCAA tournament bid. However, even with the biggest game of the season less than 24 hours away Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco was more focused Wednesday on his team's hard-fought win according to Kim Allen of WTHY-TV.
“We played terrific today in a real grind-it-out game,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “Mike (Mayers) was tremendous for us and then Huber just shut the door on them the final two innings. It’s been a tough 10 days. We’re glad to win one.”
Now tomorrow they just have to do it again.