Ole Miss takes SEC title, will host NCAA regional

Published 7:46 pm Sunday, May 27, 2018

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Ole Miss left-hander Ryan Rolison delivered in a rare bullpen appearance, and Tim Rowe and Michael Fitzsimmons made sure there was no more drama.

Rowe and Fitzsimmons hit two-run homers and Nick Fortes went 4-for-4 to lead the Rebels to a 9-1 victory over LSU on Sunday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game. But Rolison’s first relief appearance of the season set the stage.

He got two straight strikeouts to escape a one-out, bases-loaded jam unscathed in the sixth and safeguard a two-run edge.

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“I think that was the most adrenaline I’ve ever had,” Rolison said. “With our fan base behind you, it just sends adrenaline through you. I was able to get my fastball by that guy and get us off the field.”

The Rebels (46-15) captured their third SEC tournament title and first since 2006 against the Tigers (37-25), who were gunning for No. 13 and a second straight. More importantly, the Rebels likely played their way into homefield advantage on the road to Omaha.

On Sunday night, Ole Miss was selected as one of 16 NCAA Tournament regional host sites and is now ranked No. 5 in RPI, meaning it should also be in line to earn a top-eight national seed and host a super regional if it can advance.

Rolison (9-4) had started Wednesday’s loss to Auburn and thrown 86 pitches over 6 1/3 innings. Coach Mike Bianco said he normally would have thrown in the bullpen Sunday anyway. Rolison gave Ole Miss two big innings in the finale, giving up one walk and no hits.

“I think mentally he was ready and wanted the ball,” Bianco said. “He said I’m ready to go. Not a lot of times does the plan work perfectly.”

Ole Miss busted open a 3-1 game with two big hits in the seventh after Rolison’s great escape.
Will Golsan delivered a two-run single and Rowe followed with a blast to center field.

After a week filled with weather delays — and a game halted because of fog — the finale was played under sunny skies. And Ole Miss dominated, outhitting the Tigers 15-4.

Rowe hit his second homer of the season and Fitzsimmons, who came in as a pinch-hitter, got his third in the final inning. Tournament MVP Fortes finished with 10 hits in five games, scoring twice and driving in a run against the Tigers.

“It gave us a lot of confidence,” Fortes said. “Just seeing how we played this week, everyone knows we can hang with anybody in the nation. It gives us a lot of confidence going into the regionals.”

LSU came into the week with uncertain NCAA regional prospects but — as usual — had success in Hoover. It seemingly will make the 64-team NCAA Tournament field when it is announced Monday morning.

“We took away any doubt about making the NCAA Tournament,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who is 35-8 in his career in SEC tournament games.

Mainieri left thinking this might be Bianco’s best team.

“That’s clearly an Omaha team and a team I think can compete for a national championship,” he said.

Ole Miss starter Houston Roth made it one out into the fifth and reliever Will Stokes stranded a runner on third.

The Rebels chased LSU starter Caleb Gilbert (3-5) with two straight hits to open the fourth. The Hoover native had returned to the mound four days after starting and going 3 1/3 innings against South Carolina.
Ole Miss had 10 hits in the first four innings — and left eight runners on base for a modest 3-1 lead.
Rebels leadoff batter Grae Kessinger opened the game with an infield single. He was doubled up on a fly ball to center field and left the game with a hamstring injury.

LSU got its only run on doubles by Antoine Duplantis and Daniel Cabrera in the first.