HOOVER, Ala. • Ole Miss will have a shot to defend its 2018 SEC Tournament championship.
And maybe earn a spot as a 2019 regional host.
Parker Caracci, who lost his spot as the Ole Miss closer in the final week of the regular season, overcame a slow start to the ninth inning and locked down a 5-3 semifinal win over Georgia on Saturday afternoon at Hoover Met.
It’s the Rebels’ third win over a top-15 RPI team in three days, all three saved by Caracci.
Grae Kessinger’s two-run home run in the fifth provided some breathing room, and the bullpen got key outs after the Rebels (37-24) failed to cash in on key run-scoring opportunities in the fifth and sixth innings.
Regional sites will be announced tonight at 7:30 at NCAA.com and through social media.
“I think the win today probably complicated it (for the committee),” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “It’s unfortunate that we’re in this situation, we kind of did that to ourselves, but there’s a lot to like about this team.”
The Rebels will face the Vanderbilt-LSU winner in the championship game Sunday at 2 p.m.
The last team to win back-to-back SEC Tournament titles was LSU in 2013 and 2014.
“I don’t know if they’ll get to host, but nobody wants to see them as a 2 seed,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said. “If they’re a 2 seed, the 1 seed’s not going to be happy, I can tell you that.”
Ole Miss totaled 11 hits, its most in the tournament, and did it in the odd scenario of facing Georgia’s top two SEC pitchers. Emerson Hancock started the game, and Tony Locey was the first out of the bullpen.
It was a Locey fastball that Kessinger, at one time 0 for 10 here, stroked over the corner of the left field wall. It came with Thomas Dillard aboard and put Ole Miss ahead 5-3.
“I missed (the fastball) early in the at-bat, but I felt good about my swing. I felt like I was on it. I told myself I was going to get my foot down early and be on time for the fastball,” Kessinger said.
While the home run cleared the bases the Rebels would load them again with no outs, but Locey got strikeouts of Kevin Graham and Cooper Johnson and a fly ball from Anthony Servideo.
The Rebels had two on with one out in the sixth when Tyler Keenan grounded into a double play. It was then that Keenan left the game because of a heat-related issue.
Bianco worked to stretch his bullpen, and seldom-used relievers Max Cioffi, Connor Green and Kaleb Hil all got key outs in relief of Houston Roth, who gave up three runs on four hits in 4 2/3 innings.
Caracci took over and got the final out of the eighth.
He allowed a single and a walk to start the ninth before retiring the top three of Georgia’s (44-15) batting order in succession to end the game.
Bianco said he had no doubt he would use Caracci a third-straight day.
“He’s always standing near me in the dugout, and he was in my ear saying, ‘You realize the two previous days they were one-inning saves, so I’ve got multiple innings in me today.’”