HOOVER, Ala. - Ole Miss and Mississippi State met in the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament Sunday. The Bulldogs had played three games; the Rebels five. It showed.
Mississippi State, which won 4-1 in the title game, beat LSU, South Carolina, and Tennessee on the road to Sunday. Ole Miss beat Alabama, lost to Florida, then beat the Crimson Tide once and the Gators twice to get to Sunday.
No team in 11 years of the current 8-team format of the SEC baseball tourney has lost either of its first two games and won the tournament. In other words, it seems imperative that a ballclub must win its first two games and then get the coveted Friday off if it is to take home the hardware.
Mississippi State sent Brooks Dunn to the mound Sunday, and with a well-rested and mostly unused pitching staff, held the upper hand as teams do in that situation.
Ole Miss went back to the well with Mark Holliman and the veteran ace pitched two good innings before State put a three-spot on the board in the third, which would prove to be enough runs for victory.
Ole Miss' best chances for a comeback, trailing 4-0 at the time, were in the sixth and seventh innings.
In the sixth, Cooper Osteen singled with one out and after a second out was recorded, Brian Pettway singled. Stephen Head walked to load the bases but Mark Wright struck out looking. It was still 4-0.
Then in the seventh, Zack Cozart reached on a one-out walk, and Barry Gunther singled to right field. But on a C.J. Ketchum pinch hit single which scored Cozart, Gunther tried to make it from first to third and was thrown out. Cooper Osteen then struck out and the Rebels trailed 4-1.
And that was that.
The crowd of 12,290 was the sixth largest in tournament history and the third largest championship game crowd.
Quotes from Ole Miss players and Coach Mike Bianco today:
Mike Bianco - "It was one of those days that it wasn't meant to be. Our kids played hard and State put that one big inning together on Mark (in the third). That's how you score runs. You bunch the at-bats together and score runs. They did that and it was really the story of this game."
Mark Holliman on his start today after also starting Wednessday: "I felt pretty good. I knew I wouldn't be out there but a short time. I just went out there and gave it my all."
Brian Pettway on if it was hard for the team to come back today after two games yesterday: "Coming back from yesterday, we were more excited. We had the momentum coming in today, and you can't be tired to play one game, especially if it is State. Big rivalry, big crowd, championship game. It's what any baseball player would want, to play a game like this in this atmosphere."
Barry Gunther on the fact that Ole Miss will host a regional and how they have to put this game behind them: "This one really hurts. This is one of the worst losses I've ever been a part of. We worked so hard to get here. We don't want this feeling again. It will be a tough bus ride back and probably a tough night's sleep. We have to wake up and go back to work. If we go on and do what we are supposed to do, no one will remember losing to State in the SEC Tournament."
The NCAA announced today that Ole Miss is one of 16 host sites. The brackets will be announced, along with the national top 8 seeds, at 10:30 a.m. CT Monday.
Rebels fall 4-1 in bid for SEC tourney title
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