BATON ROUGE, La. - Ole Miss needed Eric Fowler to be as good as he's been all season in Sunday's finale at Alex Box Stadium. Trouble was, he turned out to be about the only thing that was good enough.
Fowler, who went seven and a third innings in the Rebels' 5-1 loss to LSU in the deciding game of the three-game series, has put together several solid performances as a starter this season. Sunday's contest was his first Southeastern Conference start of the year, although he has several more SEC starts in his UM career.
"I knew for me to have success today I was going to have to get ahead in the count and get all my pitches in the zone," said the fourth-year junior left-hander who also started the Sunday game two years ago in Baton Rouge, a 13-5 UM loss. "I even got into the bullpen a little early today (before the game) to work on getting the ball in the zone. I knew I had to do that to be effective."
Fowler threw 105 pitches and allowed three earned runs on six hits with a walk and nine strikeouts against the Tigers. His performance gave the Rebels a chance to win this one had they gotten the bats going at all against LSU pitcher Greg Smith, who pitched a four-hit complete game with no walks and seven strikeouts.
"A big key today was my slider," said Fowler, who fell to 2-2 with the loss, which was his eighth appearance and fourth start of 2005. "Having pitched down here before, I knew a little bit more what to expect. Just having the experience of being here before helped, and I was ready to go."
When Fowler came out in the eighth, he was relieved by junior RHP Anthony Cupps, who faced two batters and walked both. Redshirt freshman RHP Will Kline came in after that, facing two batters with a hit and a strikeout.
Sophomore outfielder Mark Wright got the Rebels going offensively in the top of the second with a shot not only over the left field wall but also over the left field bleachers, as the Tiger left-fielder and also the fans in those seats simply turned and watched it fly over them for a 1-0 UM lead.
But the home run didn't get to Smith, now 5-2 on the season with the win. The Rebels didn't have another baserunner until the sixth when a one-out single by Barry Gunther was negated afterwards by a double play ground ball from the bat of Cooper Osteen.
LSU's Will Harris had tied the game with a shot into the left field stands in the bottom of the third. That, too, did not seem to bother Fowler as the Tigers didn't have another baserunner until there were two outs in the fifth when he walked a batter but came right back with a strikeout to end the inning.
The Tigers broke the tie in the bottom of the sixth when they scored two runs, then added one each in the seventh and eighth.
Ole Miss had a shot to get back in it in the top of the seventh down only 3-1. Sophomore Chris Coghlan led off with a first-pitch single but was picked off first during junior Stephen Head's at-bat immediately following.
Head singled and junior Brian Pettway was then hit by a pitch. But Wright then hit into double play to end the threat.
Coghlan being picked off first was at a tough time in the game for him. In the sixth inning, LSU's Nick Stavinoha had nailed a shot right at Coghlan which bounced high and away and was ruled a hit. But it broke the tie as Chris Jackson, who had singled and found his way to third through two previous Tiger batters, scored to make it 2-1.
After Coghlan got the leadoff single in the next inning and was picked off, he came back in the bottom of the seventh and attempted to throw out Bruce Sprowl but overshot first baseman Head for an error. Sprowl would later come around to score to make it 4-1.
"I personally didn't think it was a hit," Coghlan said of the sixth inning ball hit to him by Stavinoha which was ruled an error by the game's official scorekeeper. "That's a play I should make. This is a team game, but I take a lot of responsibility for (Ole Miss losing) this one."
Coghlan said he was not affected in later innings by the hard hit ball from Stavinoha which scored the run that gave LSU the lead.
"I wasn't even thinking about it (when I got picked off at first)," he said. "I wasn't thinking about anything but trying to make the next play. (On the pickoff) it was a dumb mistake. I was over there and wasn't supposed to steal or anything like that. He (Smith) made a good move. I just made a mistake and got picked."
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said both starting pitchers were solid in this one, but at some point something was bound to happen one way or the other.
"After two days of a lot of hits for both sides, it seemed like the pitching took the momentum for both sides today," Bianco said. "We got a good performance from Eric and we needed that. When their guy is doing the same thing, then you have to match them and play very clean, almost perfect baseball. They ultimately played a little more perfect than we did. The way Smith threw the ball today, that was all they needed. Their big guys stepped up and got the hits."
The Rebels, now 24-12 overall and 7-8 in SEC action, play in Jackson Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. against Southern Mississippi. LSU improved to 26-12 and is also 7-8.
Bianco says the Rebels must stay the course and bounce back.
"We have to handle it mentally," he said. "Are we saying the glass is half empty or half full? Are we saying we're at the bottom of the West, or are we saying that we're two games out of first place (in the SEC West) with 15 remaining? Certainly I think we're good, but we're going to have to win games. We have to keep fighting and competing and taking care of our business.
"Baseball's the type of game that if you're good enough, you can fight out of it," he continued. "I really think we are good enough, talented enough. But if you leave the door open and give them a chance, teams will beat you in this league."
Rebs fall to Tigers 5-1 in series finale
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