LSU and Tennessee had plenty to play for this weekend, only both teams are at the opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Tigers came to Knoxville eyeing numbers to to add to their resume in hopes of increasing their standing for a regional (or perhaps national seed) bid. The Volunteers on the other hand were fighting for their postseason life and for a place in Hoover.
On Friday night it showed as Tennessee engaged LSU in a dog fight they would not back down from. The Vols went up one to nothing in the first when Tyler Schultz walked and was advanced by a sac bunt by Max Bartlett and scoring on a Brodie Leftridge double.
However Alex Lange was on the mound and when Alex Lange is on the mound, teams tend to not score often. Lange dipped into and out of jams several times through the course of the game, but when it was over he had turned in an eight inning shift where he only surrendered four hits and one run, striking out seven. Command was an issue for Lange though, he ended up with an unusually high amount of walks - six.
LSU answered Tennessee's game opening run with a home run from the most unlikeliest of sources: Cole Freeman. Freeman's first long bombs away of the year came in the penultimate regular season series where he stroked a line drive to left center that just barely crept over the wall. Will Neely would keep the Tigers silent for the rest of the game, only allowing four more hits in addition to Freeman's. Neely was pulled in favor of Andy Cox in the eighth inning, and LSU immediately took advantage. Freeman lead off the inning by wearing a high and tight pitch from Cox and was advanced by an Antoine Duplantis groundout. After a Jake Fraley popout, Kramer Robertson poked a worm burner though the four hole to knock in Hollywood Cole.
On Saturday, it questioned if Good Jared Poche' or Bad Jared Poche' would show up. As it turns out, it really didn't matter that it was a Good Poche day, as LSU completely ran Tennessee out of the ballpark and they didn't waste any time doing it. The long and short of if it is that LSU plated six runs in the first inning against Tennessee starter Zach Warren, who only lasted a third of an inning. LSU would tack on a run in the second and two more in the third, and after that it really just was not a competitive game of baseball. The game ended two hours after it really stopped being interesting. Tennessee plated three runs to overall indifference, and LSU did the same. Poche' went five and a third, giving up eight hits leading to just two runs and Russell Reynolds got the three inning save to close out an 11-3 victory for LSU.
LSU roared out to a three run lead in the second inning on Sunday when the Jordan twins walked and reached on error before getting tripled home by Cole Drank. A Twonny single to right scored Freeman.
Gilbert was chased after three in favor of Austin Bain when he gave up two runs in the bottom of the second after a fielder's choice and a walk lead to a single to right before a double steal set up a groundout RBI. LSU answered with a Kramer Robertson double and Bryce Jordan single in the third, and picked it up in the sixth. Bryce Jordan homered deep to left and slapped it with a hell of a pimp job, leaving his brother Beau to take his base with a retaliatory hit by pitch. That ended up hurting Tennessee as Deichmann dropped a three bagger to center.
Tennessee would answer with two runs in the bottom half of the inning when Bain issued two walks to lead off the inning before being lifted for Parker Bugg. Bugg was not able to work out of the jam, allowing a double to score both the runners. His struggles continued in the seventh as he gave up a walk, a double, and a triple to allow Tennessee to tie the game.
And then, LSU shifted into a gear that Tennessee just didn't have. Chris Reid walked to start off the top of the eighth before being advanced by two groundouts from the Jordan twins. Deichmann singled Reid home and then advanced to second when Freeman walked, setting the stage for...an Antoine Duplantis three run home run. That was Duplantis' second home run of the year, and it's hard to believe he has seven RBIs between the two of them. The most unlikeliest of sources has come in huge twice this season.
Tennessee put up a run in the eighth when a walk and wild pitch set up an RBI single, but Hunter Newman was able to put the clamps down and hold together a 10-7 final to complete the sweep.
LSU is at home all week to close out the regular season, hosting Northwestern State Tuesday at 6:30 before welcoming the top ranked Gators into the Box for a Thursday-Friday set. Thursday's game is at 6:30 as well on ESPNU, with game two also at 6:30 but shifting to the SEC Network. The series concludes at 3:30 Saturday again on ESPNU.
When the schedule was announced, we knew the finale with Florida would be a huge series and it has proved to be such, even if it isn't the top-five matchup we thought it would be. It's still an intriguing top ten series, but LSU has a lot more at stake than the Gators do. LSU has cracked the top ten in most polls and holds an RPI of 12, which will go up by simply playing Florida. If LSU can win the series or even sweep (and that's a mighty big if), then that coupled with a good showing at the SEC Tournament in Hoover could push LSU into the back door of a national seed. While a series loss or sweep to Florida may not hurt the Tigers alone, if they go two and q in Hoover then they could see a bump from the regional hosting discussion.
So, the question remains: do you have faith in the Rally Possum?