HOOVER, Ala.—It wasn't pretty, but it was entertaining.
After two days of pitchers' duels, Mississippi won a back-and-forth slugfest against Auburn on Friday night, 10-7. Senior outfielder Taylor Hashman broke a 7-7 with a three-run homer to center field in the 10th. Hashman has swung the bat well this week, and he has had a knack for coming up with timely hits all season. He now has 23 RBIs with two outs this season, second-most on the team.
Power played a big part in this game, unlike in most of the first eight games of the Southeastern Conference tournament. The Rebels went up 3-1 early, and Auburn's Tony Caldwell tied it with a two-run homer in the third. The Rebels took a three-run lead with three in the seventh, and the Tigers tied it on Hunter Morris' majestic three-run homer to right in the bottom of the frame. That shot, against lefty Matt Crouse (who pitched well), was downright towering.
But it was a sloppy game, and the one-hour, 55-minute rain delay before first pitch might have played a role in that, creating wet conditions and anxious players. Auburn made five errors, leading to four unearned runs, and Ole Miss made two errors of its own. The two teams combined to hit seven batters.
Mississippi advances to face Louisiana State on Saturday. If the Rebels win, the two teams will play again later Saturday. Auburn is eliminated, finishing with a 1-2 record in Hoover. In the big picture, neither team's postseason position is affected much by Friday's result. Auburn's national seed hopes took a big hit, but the Tigers probably weren't going to land a national seed anyway (though I would argue perhaps they should have had a more prominent place in that discussion). Auburn is still a lock to host a regional, and Mississippi probably cannot do anything in Hoover to earn its own home regional after it finished the regular season with five straight losses.
But the Rebels needed to rebuild their confidence in Hoover, and they seem to be doing that. But the team's biggest weakness—the lack of a consistent third starter—remains evident. Starter David Goforth showed good stuff, as usual, working at 93-94 and showing a decent breaking ball and good changeup, but he lasted just 2 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on six hits.
The bullpen pitched well, however, which is encouraging. Even Crouse had a fine outing before serving up that homer to Morris, striking out eight over four innings thanks largely to his deceptive high-80s fastball. Perhaps Mississippi doesn't need a consistent No. 3 starter to make a deep run. South Carolina and Auburn haven't had them, either, and both those teams are going to host regionals. All of those teams have enough quality options in the bullpen to overcome short outings from their starters.
Good relief work is essential to winning close games, and so is timely hitting. Hashman took care of the latter Thursday.
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