The Georgia Bulldogs finally ran out of late-inning magic. But it was there for the taking again.
The Bulldogs had runners on second-and-third in the ninth inning for Tucker Maxwell and Riley King, but neither could drive them home and seventh-seeded Ole Miss held on for a 5-3 win the semifinals of the SEC Tournament.
The Rebels will face the winner of LSU-Vanderbilt in the championship game tomorrow at 3 p.m. at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
The No. 6 Bulldogs (44-15) will return to Athens where they’ll learn their seeding Sunday night for next weekend’s NCAA Regional. Entering the SEC Tournament with a No. 3 RPI, Georgia is expected to host at Foley Field throughout the regionals.
Georgia also stranded Aaron Schunk at third base in the eighth inning Saturday.
In winning their first two games in the tournament, the Bulldogs got a two-run homer in the ninth to beat Texas A&M 2-0 and scored all three of their runs in the seventh and eighth innings to beat No. 7 Arkansas 3-1 on Thursday.
“It just wasn’t our day,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said on the Bulldogs’ postgame show. “I didn’t think we played particularly well. I don’t want to take anything away from Ole Miss because I thought their pitchers really gutted it out and they made plays and got clutch hits. It seemed like the balls they hit found holes and ours didn’t. But I didn’t think we played particularly well. But we had a chance to win.”
The Rebels (37-24), playing their fifth game in five days, were desperate to win and improve their postseason profile, while the Bulldogs were more interested in preserving their pitching for next weekend’s NCAA regionals. Because it had the day off Friday, Georgia came into the game with the plan to pitch both Emerson Hancock and Tony Locey as both the starters were due to take their turn.
That would seem to be advantageous for the Bulldogs, but neither of their star hurlers had their best stuff. Sticklin elected to start Hancock, Georgia’s ace, on a 60-pitch count. Hancock, who traveled to Hoover late because he’d been “under the weather” with a cold, would not reach it.
A cut on his right thumb — plus two run-producing hits — chased Hancock in the fourth inning. That brought in Locey (10-1, 2.55 ERA) with two outs and a runner on second in the fourth. With the count left at 1-2, Locey threw a one-pitch strikeout and further threat was averted with the Bulldogs trailing 3-2.
Georgia quickly pulled even with a run in the fifth on an Aaron Schunk RBI single, scoring Chaney Rogers.
Ole Miss pulled back ahead on Grae Kessinger’s two-run homer. But the Rebels would leave the inning disappointed. After loading the bases with no outs, they would not score again. Two Locey strikeouts and a ground out kept the margin at two runs.
There the scoring would end for both teams.
Catcher Mason Meadows staked the Bulldogs to a 2-0 lead with a home run in the second inning. Meadows also had key put-outs on a caught-stealing and foul ball on the edge of the Georgia dugout.
In the end, the Bulldogs’ focus at this point was fully on the NCAA Tournament. They were awarded a national seed last year (No. 8), but lost to Duke in the first round. Georgia has been on a “revenge tour” ever since.
On the downside, the Bulldogs’ streak of having never won the SEC Tournament remains intact.