HOOVER, Ala. (Ole Miss Athletics) - Ole Miss is heading back to the SEC Tournament Championship game for the second straight year after a come-from-behind win over the No. 3 seed Georgia Bulldogs and their pair of SEC aces.
A two-run home run from Grae Kessinger in the fifth inning was the difference maker, as Ole Miss quickly erased a 2-0 deficit to first climb back to a tie, and then take the lead on Kessinger's shot.
The Rebel shortstop claimed the last word in today's semifinal matchup with the Bulldogs, as the Ole Miss bullpen ensured that his effort did not die in vain. After Houston Roth's 4.2 strong innings from the start, a combined four arms out of the pen hurled together four-and-a-third innings of scoreless work.
Parker Caracci earned his third save in five games at the SEC Tournament, tying the tournament record for most saves (3). He also picked up his 11th save of the year, beating out his 2018 total of 10, and permanently putting behind him a slow finish to the regular season.
The Georgia starter Emerson Hancock came in today with a 1.31 ERA and an opponent batting average of .155, but the Rebels quickly jumped on him as well as the second Bulldogs' ace, Tony Locey, and outperformed one of the best pitching staffs in the SEC.
In the leadoff spot, Thomas Dillard watched a 98 MPH fastball down the pipe from Georgia's Hancock to start the Rebels off the plate before going down swinging. Only Tyler Keenan was able to do any damage off of the Bulldog ace in the first inning, roping a double down the line in right, but he was left stranded.
Georgia jumped to an early lead with a two-run home run from Mason Meadows in the second inning, but it wouldn't hold for long. In the third, the Rebels pieced together a run to cut the deficit in half. Anthony Servideo led off the inning with a single past the Georgia first baseman, right before swiping second for his team-high 22nd stolen bag of the season. Jacob Adams did his job and pushed Servideo to third on a sacrifice bunt, while Dillard sent him home on a textbook ground ball to the right side for an RBI and the first run of the day for Ole Miss.
The third, however, was just a taste of things to come in the next frame. The Rebels jumped all over Hancock in the fourth, and led off the inning with three consecutive singles from Cole Zabowski, Ryan Olenek and Kevin Graham. Graham's hit into right scored Zabowski from second for the freshman's 31st RBI of the season, while an RBI groundout from the bat of Cooper Johnson sent Olenek home one batter later.
Hancock exited after 3.2 innings, but the Rebels certainly left their mark on the Georgia ace, having handed him a new season high in earned runs allowed with three. Hancock's exit made way for Tony Locey, another dominant force on the Bulldog staff, who quickly brought an end to the fourth with a strikeout to Adams, leaving two Rebels stranded.
Georgia, however, recouped their losses with a bounce-back inning in the fifth. A two-out single by Aaron Schunk scored a run and tied the game back at three, forcing the Rebels to turn to reliever Max Cioffi after 4.2 innings of quality work from Roth. Needing just one out to escape the frame, Cioffi forced a fly out to Servideo in right to limit the damage.
Roth, in just his fourth start of the year, outlasted one of the best SEC arms in Hancock, and more importantly, held the Georgia offense to just three runs. Save for a two-run homer in the second, he was nearly flawless, striking out four and allowing just four hits.
After losing the lead in the top half, the Rebels responded with an immediate two-spot in the bottom of the fifth. After Dillard reached on a single, Grae Kessinger took a 2-1 pitch and smashed it over the fence in left field, giving the Rebels a 5-3 lead. The next three batters all reached, but were all stranded on three consecutive outs, negating what could have been a knockout blow to the Bulldogs.
A pair of Rebels reached in the sixth as Kessinger and Dillard were both given free passes to first, but a 3-6-3 double play sent Ole Miss back to the dugout empty-handed.
Connor Green was called in for the seventh inning and quickly made up for a walk issued by Cioffi with a lineout to Kessinger, who doubled up the Georgia runner at first to end the frame.
Green lasted two-thirds of an inning, but he too found his day cut short after walking the first batter he faced in the eighth inning. Kaleb Hill came next, striking out one and forcing a groundout to another, before he was replaced with the Rebel closer in Parker Caracci.
Caracci quickly worked one out upon entering to strand a runner at third and bring the eighth to a close.
The Rebels couldn't send any runs across in the bottom half and sent their All-American closer back out for the ninth.
Caracci worked himself into some trouble in the top of the ninth, allowing a hit and a walk before he was able to record an out. A sacrifice bunt then put both of them in scoring position with just one out. Caracci, always one for drama, then went strikeout-pop out to seal the deal and leave two stranded in scoring position.
His 1.1 innings of work earned him his third save of the SEC Tournament, which ties the tournament record. He also notched his 11th save of the year, edging out his 2018 save total of 10, and placing him fifth on the program's single-season (11) and career (21) saves list.
Ole Miss will now play the winner of LSU-Vanderbilt in the second SEC Tournament Championship game in as many years for the Rebels. Last year, Ole Miss beat LSU 9-1 to claim the program's first SEC Tournament title since 2006.
Zack Phillips will start for the Rebels tomorrow.