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Day Four: Ole Miss Wins First SEC Tournament Championship

Day Four: Ole Miss Wins First SEC Tournament Championship
Photo: Wade Payne/USA TODAY Sports
KNOXVILLE, Tennessee -- The final day of the SEC Tournament at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium featured two semifinals and an unexpected championship game between the eighth-seeded Ole Miss Rebels and the sixth-seeded LSU Tigers after Friday's rainouts. Here is a look at Saturday's action:

Championship 

Score: Ole Miss 5, LSU 1
What happened: The Rebels broke the game open after loading the bases in the second inning on back-to-back-to-back singles by catcher Courtney Syrett, shortstop Paige McKinney and first baseman Dakota Matiko -- which all came after Kaylee Horton led off with a single and was thrown out stealing.

Elantra Cox doubled in two runs and Kylan Becker followed with a two-RBI single. Becker singled and scored on an error in the top of the seventh.

Pitcher Kaitlin Lee did the rest. She allowed one run in the bottom of the fourth when she gave up back-to-back singles. A sacrifice bunt put Bailey Landry in position to score on a groundout.

LSU started Sydney Smith, but she gave way to Carley Hoover after just 1 & 1/3 innings. Allie Walljasper relieved Hoover to get LSU's final out. Tigers catcher Sahvannah Jaquish was an unsung hero, throwing out three Ole Miss runners on steal attempts.

Lee had plenty of support as Ole Miss pounded out 12 hits. Cox, Becker and Ashton Lampton had two hits each at the top of the order.

The star: Who else? Lee again fueled the Rebels in the pitching circle, starting for the second time on the day after throwing a complete game agains Alabama in a semifinal win earlier.

Pumping her fist, grunting in war-cry fashion after every pitch, she held LSU to one run on five hits with two strikeouts and no walks. She threw 82 strikes in 109 pitches.

Records: Ole Miss improved to 40-18, while LSU fell to 41-18.

Semifinal 1

Score: Ole Miss 4, Alabama 1

What happened: Ole Miss attacked with its short game early to post a 3-0 lead with a second-inning outburst, slapping and bunting and forcing two rundowns that scored runners. Pinch hitter Dakota Matiko pushed the lead to four runs with a solo homer in the fifth inning.

Alabama threatened late. Bailey Hemphill singled in a run in the sixth and the Crimson Tide had two runners on base with no outs, but Ole Miss ace Kaitlin Lee buckled down and got out of the situation. Alabama brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh, but Lee wasn't going to have it, getting a fly ball to left to end the game.

The star: Once again, 5-foot-6 pitcher Lee powered Ole Miss emotionally and was a steadying influence in the circle. She allowed her only walk of the SEC Tournament in the seventh inning and scattered seven hits, but her pitch-to-contact, two-strikeout win was a testament to size of heart trumping physical size.

Alabama fell to 42-16.

Semifinal 2

Score: LSU 6, Auburn 0
What happened: Auburn had a meltdown inning, committing four errors in the top of the fifth as LSU scored five runs. On the game, Auburn had five total errors, including three by second baseman KK Crocker.

Allie Walljasper pitched 5 1/3 innings for the win, scattering five hits before turning the ball over to Carley Hoover, who sat down five batters and walked one in relief. It was Hoover's first appearance since sustaining a knee injury in late April.

Walljasper struck out Auburn's Kasey Cooper three times on consecutive at-bats, marking the first time in Cooper's career that she has been struck out three times in a row. 
The star: LSU catcher Sahvanna Jaquish went 3-for-4, driving in one run and scoring once.

Auburn, which was gunning for a third straight SEC Tournament championship, fell to 46-10.

Game of the Day

There wasn't a close game, but the LSU-Auburn game produced the same kind of affect that you get when driving by a car wreck -- you just couldn't turn your eyes away while Auburn unraveled in the fifth inning.

Kaitlin Lee, Ole MissPlayer of the Day

Kaitlin Lee: The Little Pitcher That Could faced two top-tier programs on the same day and was too much for them to handle. Throwing her changeup for strikes and hitting her spots, she scattered 12 hits over 14 innings, giving up two runs on the day with four strikeouts and just one walk.

The tournament's Most Valuable Player threw 28 innings in the tournament to notch four wins, allowing 19 total hits with 12 strikeouts, three runs (all earned) with the singular walk.
In the process, she became a star in the softball world and will be a must-watch player in the NCAA Tournament. SEC coaches and players can tell you: don't bet against her.

Play of the Day

Ole Miss shortstop Paige McKinney singled up the middle in the top of the third inning against Alabama with teammate Kaylee Horton on second base, but it was what she did after that ended up being a defining play for the Rebels.

Alabama center fielder Elissa Brown threw the ball to pitcher Sydney Littlejohn, but McKinney turned to go to second and didn't show any sign of letting up. Littlejohn threw to second baseman Claire Jenkins to start a rundown, and Horton took off for home. Jenkins threw to catcher Reagan Dykes, but Horton got under the tag and McKinney landed safely at second base -- and later scored on a single.

The heads-up play by McKinney exemplified the scrappy, aggressive approach by Ole Miss throughout the tournament.

Biggest Surprise

Ole Miss called upon pinch hitter Dakota Matiko in the fifth inning. She was 5-for-24 on the season with no extra-base hits and no RBIs. The senior transfer from McNeese State promptly tagged a solo home run to give the Rebels some insurance, upping the lead over Alabama to 4-0.

She also had a key single to load the bases against LSU in the championship game, setting up a four-run outburst by the Rebels to break the game open.

All-Tournament Team

Alabama: Alexis Osorio, Bailey Hemphill
Auburn: Kaylee Carlson, Kendall Veach
LSU: Allie Walljasper, Sahvanna Jaquish, Bailey Landry
Ole Miss: Kaitlin Lee (MVP), Elantra Cox, Kylan Becker, Miranda Strother

Quote of the Day

I think it's mind-set against mind-set to be honest with you. I don't think it's anything about my pitches. I don't consider myself overpowering. I don't consider myself the best pitcher in the SEC. I do not, without a doubt, consider myself that. But I can without a doubt tell you that I have the best mind-set and mentality out of any pitcher in the SEC. And in the nation. I can promise you that. - Kaitlin Lee
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