For a while it looked like whatever magic the No. 8 seed LSU baseball team harnessed for its Southeastern Conference Tournament run had died out.
The timely hitting and offensive firepower that characterized the Tigers’ eight-game winning streak were nowhere in sight Friday as they squared off with Southeastern Louisiana. The Lions gifted LSU its first run with a walk and two wild pitches, and after that the Tigers couldn’t do much more than string a few singles together.
Facing a 4-2 deficit in the 7th inning, LSU desperately needed something to jumpstart its bats. Southeastern provided the spark.
Two free baserunners, three errors and a few clutch hits were the catalysts for the Tigers’ six-run eruption that clinched an 8-4 victory in the opening game of the Baton Rouge regional. LSU will face the winner of tonight’s matchup between Houston and Bryant tomorrow at 7 p.m.
“Things kind of unraveled for Southeastern there in the 8th inning with the errant throw by the catcher and the errant pick-off attempt,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “We took advantage of their errors with good baserunning.”
The early lack of runs wasn’t the only peculiarity in Friday’s game. For the first time in three weeks, LSU faced an early deficit.
Junior outfielder Andrew Godbold cranked his ninth home-run of the year in the 1st inning, putting the Tigers in an unfamiliar situation. But junior first baseman Tyler Moore drew a lead-off walk in the bottom of the 2nd and let Southeastern’s sophomore right-hander Andro Cutura take care of the rest.
Moore advanced on a wild pitch and a ground-out before scoring on another wild pitch by Cutura. LSU put its bats to work in the next inning, slicing a pair of singles and a sharply-hit RBI ground-out to take a 2-1 lead.
Meanwhile, freshman southpaw Jared Poche’ had found his footing following the first-inning homer, retiring six straight batters as the Tigers clung to their narrow advantage. But the Lions pulled even in the 5th inning when junior second baseman Jacob Williams cranked an RBI double to left-center.
“I think I struggled with my put-away pitches,” Poche’ said. “I left some curveballs too hittable. I should have left them in the dirt.”
Poche’s weakening command was evident when he threw four straight balls after going up 0-2 to put sophomore designated hitter Daniel Midyett on base with two outs in the 6th inning. After throwing a wild pitch, Poche’ left a hanging breaking ball out for junior first baseman Sam Roberson, who put Southeastern ahead 4-2 with a two-run homer.
But Cutura also struggled with his command, plunking sophomore shortstop Alex Bregman to start the bottom of the 7th inning. Cutura then walked senior designated hitter Sean McMullen, setting LSU up for its late-inning explosion.
Junior catcher Kade Scivicque singled into left field, and Bregman scampered home on a fielding error. Moore tied the game with an RBI single into left-center, and the reason behind the shifting momentum was no secret to Southeastern coach Matt Riser.
“That’s usually how it is in the game of baseball,” Riser said. “If you play clean baseball, play fundamental baseball, you do get the win. If you look at the two runs they scored to tie it up, there was a hit-by-pitch and a walk.”
Riser turned to his bullpen to stem the tide, but mistakes in the field plagued the Lions once again.
Senior third baseman Christian Ibarra put down a bunt and reached base on a throwing error. Sophomore right fielder Mark Laird followed that up with a chopper to the shortstop, who couldn’t make the throw to first in time.
Senior right-hander Dylan Hills misfired on his throw to pick off Laird at first, allowing Ibarra to score and Laird to reach third base. Bregman smacked an RBI ground-out and freshman left fielder Jake Fraley singled before McMullen put the game away with a two-run homer.
“It has been a tradition of our program to rally and do whatever it takes to win,” Mainieri said. “We just had to grind this one out. At times it wasn’t pretty, but we did what it took to win.”