An SEC tournament flooded with rain and runs culminates with Ole Miss facing LSU on Sunday.
After losing their opening game of the double-elimination tournament, the Rebels rallied to win three straight contests behind stout pitching. Per the Clarion-Ledger's Antonio Morales, they will send sophomore Houston Roth to the mound with hopes of capturing their first conference tournament title since 2006.
Fog forced LSU to finalize its 11-0 victory over top-seeded Florida on Saturday. Mother Nature again interfered later that day, when a rain delay interrupted the Tigers' 2-1 semifinal triumph over the Razorbacks. Having persevered through the elements, the reigning champions can cement their sixth SEC title in 11 years.
According to the Advocate's Luke Johnson, junior Caleb Gilbert will start for the Tigers.
Let's take a closer look at Sunday's championship showdown at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
SEC Championship Game
No. 2 Ole Miss vs. No. 8 LSU: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Jordan Fowler—who tossed six scoreless innings in Saturday's 2-1 semifinal win over Texas A&M—represents Ole Miss' only starter with an ERA below 3.75. The rotation has nevertheless proved to be the crux of their SEC run.
Following Fowler's gem, Ole Miss starters have combined to cede three runs in 24.1 innings. Despite last pitching from the bullpen on May 18, Roth will be tasked with extending the unit's success against an offense that has scored 30 runs in five tournament games.
The righty has registered 61 strikeouts over 47.1 innings, but those whiffs have come with a 4.75 ERA and 23 walks. Given his adapted role and control woes, the Rebels should not expect a long turn.
This is thus the perfect game in which to unleash Parker Caracci. When utilized on Thursday, the Rebels' shutdown reliever nearly threw the game away on a bizarre fielding mishap:
The blunder created an opening for the Georgia Bulldogs, but the sophomore recovered to preserve a tie until Tim Rowe smacked a walk-off single in the 10th frame. Caracci notched seven of 10 outs via strikeout, giving him a 1.85 ERA with 68 punchouts over 43.2 innings.
"It was a big situation, but Parker did a good job of flushing it," Rowe told the Oxford Eagle's Davis Potter. "We just stayed within ourselves. We knew we could bounce back from it, and that's what we did."
Miscue aside, the Rebels should squeeze another prolonged relief outing out of their bullpen ace.
LSU, meanwhile, can continue its dominance at Hoover, Alabama, by collecting its 13th SEC tournament title in school history. But don't mistake past pedigree for current prestige, as a 15-16 conference record and 4-14 road mark led Paul Mainieri's squad to settle for the tournament's eighth seed.
As LSU Athletics director of digital media Todd Politz noted, the Tigers have reversed season-long pitching trouble during tournament play:
That hot streak is in major jeopardy. Gilbert enters the monumental start brandishing a 5.17 ERA and 1.65 WHIP. Opponents boast a .322 batting average against the righty, who grew up in Hoover.
While Mainieri should not expect a gem in line with Zack Hess' seven stellar innings in the semifinal, his club must avoid a steep regression to the mean. In April, LSU yielded 25 runs in a three-game series against Ole Miss.
The Tigers also don't possess a single slugger with double-digit home runs, but five of their regular starters are batting above .300. Then again, the Rebels have collectively batted .301 with 27 more homers than their championship opponent.
Each team advanced past the semifinals with a 2-1 victory, but they are likely to trade more runs Sunday. Look for Ole Miss to halt LSU's Hoover magic with a powerful offensive display.
Prediction: Ole Miss 8, LSU 4