Had he seized just one more moment against second-ranked LSU, Alabama would still be playing in the SEC tournament.
Oczypok came one out short of a complete game, as LSU scored a pair of two-out runs in the top of the ninth inning and beat Alabama 3-2 in Friday’s first elimination game at the Hoover Met.
LSU (50-9), which also beat Alabama 3-0 on Tuesday, will play Arkansas in Saturday’s noon elimination game. Alabama (34-26) awaits Monday’s announcement of the NCAA tournament field.
“Obviously, this is a really tough one,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “I thought Mike was just tremendous today.
“It was a well-played game, and I give LSU credit there in the ninth inning.”
LSU scored the go-ahead runs on Tyler Moore’s RBI double off Oczypok (4-2) and Ty Ross’ run-scoring single off reliever Jay Shaw.
Moore’s game-tying hit came after Oczypok delivered a 3-1 fastball for a strike to force a full count. Moore then fouled off two pitches before hitting into the right-center field gap to plate pinch runner Jared Foster, who came on after Christian Ibarra’s two-out single.
“I saw the first pitch and fouled that off then went to a 3-1 count,” Moore said. “Then he threw a fastball for a strike.
“Then I was looking for a pitch, and I was just going to swing hard and, hopefully, hit something in the gap. I got a few OK pitches and fouled those off, and then he gave me a pretty good pitch to hit.”
Ross hit a 1-1 fastball from Shaw to left field to score Moore.
Oczypok worked 8 2/3 innings and 120 pitches, spreading out 10 hits and striking out five batters with one walk. All three runs were earned, but he kept LSU off-balance most of the day with his sinking, two-seam fastball.
His pitching led to ground balls. LSU got its lead-off batter on base five times, but Alabama turned four double plays behind him. The last double play on a Raph Rhymes grounder to record the first two outs of the ninth inning, after Mason Katz hit a lead-off single.
“At the end, I was just trying to throw strikes and make some pitches,” Oczypok said. “I left one up, and they just hit it in the gap.
“It was a big hit for them. That’s baseball.”
Before Friday, Oczypok (4-2) made four starts. His only other loss of the season came in a 16-inning game at LSU, where he surrendered three runs on three hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings of work April 20.
Oczypok didn’t make the team a year ago but made strides during summer ball in Chicago and Boston. He turned down an offer from Penn State to try out again at Alabama.
His other three starts this season were against UAB, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State, but he had made relief appearances in SEC games. Friday’s game in a nearly full Hoover Met was his biggest to date.
“The one thing with Mike is, you know, all the stuff he’s been through to get to get to the spot that he’s in today,” Gaspard said. “He’s an ultra-confident guy. He’s been through a lot to get to this spot, and the team is very confident in him.”
Alabama was playing its fourth game in the tournament, and Oczypok got the start Friday partly because Ray Castillo’s shoulder soreness forced Tucker Hawley to close in a victory over Ole Miss on Thursday. Hawley’s relief work Thursday took him out of consideration for a start Friday.
Oczypok’s command Friday caught even Gaspard off-guard. Gaspard said his hope was to get halfway through the game then piece things together with his bullpen.
LSU was even more baffled.
“Their pitcher surprised us a little bit,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He was pretty good. He had a good, hard sinker. He had good velocity. He threw a lot of strikes and did a really nice job.
“I’m sure Mitch and his staff are really happy with the way their pitcher pitched, because he was a lot more of a challenge than maybe we would have thought going into the game because I knew they were getting pretty deep into their staff.”
Mikey White’s run-scoring triple to left-center field and Brett Booth’s single to right field to score White gave Alabama its first lead, 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Sean McMullen got LSU on the board, driving a ball to the wall in left-center field to score Moore from second base with two outs in the top of the third inning. Moore walked and reached second on Stevenson’s grounder.
LSU reliever Nate Fury (2-1) picked up the win, and closer Chris Cotton struck out all three batters he faced in the bottom of the ninth to pick up his 14th save of the season.
LSU starter Ryan Eades worked seven completing innings, allowing four hits and one walk with four strikeouts.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.