Don't let the high score fool you. Anthony Ranaudo was awesome. He gave up 5 runs, but 4 of them were unearned. The Tiger hitters, after a very slow start to the game (Austin Nola, in the 9-hole, got our first hit) came up big in the middle and late innings to give LSU a big lead. The Tiger hitting made up for the poor defense, which led to 4 of the 5 runs charged to Ranaudo. Despite that, the game was firmly in hand when Anthony Ranaudo handed the ball off to the bullpen, which let up an inordinate number of runs to make the final score look closer than the game really was.
LSU gave up a 3-0 lead early on some poor defensive plays. With no outs and runner on second, Ranaudo made a nifty stop on a grounder back to the mound and trapped the runner in a run down, but Austin Nola's throw to 3rd sailed into the Rice dugout. Instead of 1 out and a runner on first, the runner scored and the batter advanced to third base, later scoring on a sac fly. Neither of those runs would have occurred but for the Nola error. Two innings later, the same runner reached on a Hanover error on a sharply hit grounder, then advanced to second when Ochinko lost a pickoff throw in the sun and let the ball get behind him. The runner later scored on a single to push the Owl lead to 3-0
Rice's starting pitcher Mike Ojala was terrific through the first three innings, but then when the Tigers started coming back to face him a second time, they started getting to him as Ojala's arm, weakened by injury all season, started to falter. In the 4th inning, LSU manufactured a run on a walk, a single, a HBP, and a fielder's choice. We left runners on, but we had cut the lead to 3-1.
The next inning, after a Rice solo home run in the top of the 4th, the Tiger bats really broke free. Hanover made up for his error with a double down the left field line, and Nola followed it up by getting hit with the first pitch he saw. Lemahieu singled Hanover in and Nola to second. Ojala was lifted in favor of the regular Sunday starter, Taylor Wall, a good lefty who should have been able to limit the damage but instead promptly gave up a 3-run home run to Ryan Schimpf.
The Tigers weren't done. A single by Blake Dean and a sacrifice bunt by Gibbs put another runner in scoring position. Mahtook singled, but Dean was unable to score on the hit. It was of no consequence as Ochinko doubled home both Dean and Mahtook against the third pitcher of the inning. The score was now 7-4 and things were looking good.
We'd add two more in the 6th inning as Schimpf got another big hit, this time an RBI double in which he ended up on 3rd base due to a fielding error in the outfield, and was then knocked in by a Dean sac fly.
Meanwhile, except for the defensive problems (which weren't over yet, by the way), Ranaudo was cruising. He recorded 9 strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings and gave up only 5 hits. He left in the 8th inning in favor of Paul Bertuccini with one runner on base (courtesy of a dropped fly ball to center field, our 4th error of the night). Bertuccini then gave up a towering home run to Rice's super freshman Anthony Rendon (who ended up on base every time he came up, and scored 3 runs) which cut LSU's lead to 9-6. Bertuccini got the next out, and LSU was able to put up 3 more runs in the bottom of the 8th as Rice burned through reliever after reliever.
Those runs turned out to be meaningful as it allowed Mainieri to tell Matty Ott to have a seat in favor of Buzzy Haydel with a safe 6 run lead, 12-6. Haydel wasn't spectacular, giving up 3 runs on 3 hits including a home run, but he got out of the inning without bringing the tying run even to the on-deck circle, and he allowed Mainieri to keep the key parts of his bullpen (Ott, Cain, Bertuccini, Jones) fresh for the Saturday game.
Saturday will be a challenge, as Rice will be throwing Ryan Berry, whose opponents are hitting .183 against on the season. He also does not walk a lot of hitters and he's pretty good about going deep into a ball game. He will be a tough guy to beat.
The good news is that we not only won, but we did so without having to abuse Louis Coleman, without significantly using up our bullpen. Also, we got to see pretty much every arm Rice will throw at us out of the bullpen, including their closer Jordan Rogers. We probably used up their best left-handed reliever Matt Evers, and we saw the pitcher we'll likely see on Sunday if it goes that far. Things look good, but we are facing a tough pitcher tomorrow.