After squandering a good outing by Alex Lange on Friday, LSU needed to bounce back in a big way to salvage a critical SEC series as the league race tightened around them. The Tigers weren’t as clutch as you would hope, but they got the critical hits at just the right moments to take the final two games against USC and keep their championship (Yes, Championship) hopes alive.
On Saturday, Jared Poche’ gave a good Poché outing, tossing 7 innings of 3 hit ball. His only blemish cam in the 4th where a lead off double by USC 3B Jonah Bride compounded into a bases loaded walk. Luckily, Poché regained his control to leave the bases full without any further damage. He would last through the 7th, giving up 6 walks on the night, but keeping enough control to keep USC off the board. All the extra work gave him a pitch count of 113 by the time he was relieved.
The Tiger bats would respond in the 5th, taking advantage of Gamecock mistakes and playing some more aggressive ground ball than we have seen most of the year. Michael Papierski got a leadoff walk, then Zach Watson got on with a short single into center. Kramer Robertson laid down a nice bunt to move them over, then Cole Freeman made that play we’ve seen on so many classic summer nights in Alex Box Stadium the last few years, a fast ground ball that toes the 1B line all the way to the back, giving him a 2 run triple. Antoine Duplantis would bring him home with a sac fly to make it 3-1 in the 5th.
The scoring continued the next inning as Nick Coomes would take another lead off walk and Josh Smith would wear one to put two on. With two outs, Watson was up to the plate again, and he knocked a short single into right, scoring 2. The game would cruise on from there, with Zach Hess having a shaky 8th in relief of Poché. He hit Bride with his first pitch, who would steal 2nd and come home on a center field single, but Hess got himself under enough control to get out without any further damage. Hunter Newman gave up a lead off walk himself in the ninth, but nothing would come of it. USC left 10 men on base on Saturday as the series evened.
Sunday’s finale had a lot of #CONTROVERSY and LSU certainly got some help from an umpiring crew that had been, let’s say, less than stellar all weekend. Eric Walker’s day was not pleasant, and it started rough right in the first. Back-to-back lead off singles allowed USC to put one on the board immediately. The pain for Walker really came in the 5th as the Gamecocks went 2B-1B RBI-1B to tie the game. USC’s Bride then hit a grounder to 3B that should have been a double play, but Smith got crossed up on the play, only tagging the lead runner. That mistake cost LSU dearly, as it was immediately followed by a 3 run homer from Alex Destino to give USC a 5-3 lead. Walker would escape the inning, but got a severe dressing down by Paul Mainieri in the dugout that was caught on camera.
LSU had scored early in the 2nd on a Papierski RBI single and Freshman Zach Watson got another RBI on a grounder to short that should have been a double play, but was thrown in the dirt at 1st, scoring Beau Jordan. In the 4th, Jordan got his own ground ball into the right corner for a double, moved over on a ground out, then took home on a wild pitch with two outs. After USC took the lead in the 5th, LSU would get one back in the bottom of the inning as Robertson scored from 2B on a Deichmann single into the right corner. That play left Duplantis at 3B with 1 out and Coomes tried to sac fly him home, but the fly ball was not deep in right, and on his dive for the plate, Duplantis missed it by inches, ending the inning in a rare 9-2 double play.
That play was the first of multiple reviewed plays as the rubber game wore on. Gilbert and Bush held off the Gamecocks in middle relief, but LSU just couldnt get anything more going until the 8th. With 2 on and 2 out, Zach Watson got lucky again, this time with the ump’s help. What should have been an inning ending ground ball to SS became an RBI single as the ump at 1B ruled the fielder off the bag. I’ve seen a bunch of arguments on this play, but I think the ump blew it.
The lucky break tied the game and, due to the patchwork rules surrounding replay in college baseball, was not reviewable. Robertson grounded out to 2B, but the damage had been done. A furious USC coaching staff refused to let the umps off for the mistake and assistant coach Sammy Esposito was ejected from the dugout.
Newman came in for the 9th, but USC wasn’t going to let the game slip away. HBP-Sac bunt-walk-single got the bases loaded quickly, and USC took the easy score on a sac fly, but that would be all. Under the gun, LSU started the bottom 9th with a Freeman HBP, then Duplantis sent another single into the right corner. 2 on, one out for Deichmann and you think the big bomb is coming, but instead he knocks a soft, almost slow-motion single into center for the tying RBI. USC would intentionally walk Josh Smith to face Jordan with 1 out, but the magic didn’t come for him this time, and his strikeout followed by a Papierski fly ball sent the game to extras.
In the 10th, USC got a 1 out walk, then a double to the wall in left that should have given them the lead, but Kramer Robertson’s amazing defensive play yet again saved LSU
What a move. That clear swing of momentum was all it took to break the will of the Gamecocks. Watson lead off the LSU 10th with a single, Robertson sac bunted him into scoring position, Freeman reached as the SS bobbled a ground ball, and Duplantis walked it off on a short single to left that the USC LF barely even bothered to field, knowing their fate was sealed. Cheers. Celebrations. Shaving Cream. Etc.
A walk-off win calls for a post game ice bath ❄️❄️❄️ pic.twitter.com/WPzsXVQKPk— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) May 7, 2017
Nearly forgot about this pic I managed to snap of Alex Lange getting Duplantis with the shaving cream pie. pic.twitter.com/8lmlbgCQMe— Luke Johnson (@ByLukeJohnson) May 8, 2017
It was important to get that series win, because as this was all going on at LSU, All manner of insanity was breaking out all over the conference. Kentucky dropped a home series to Georgia, and Bama, woeful inept Bama, shocked the SEC and swept Auburn on The Plains, more than doubling their SEC win total for the year in one weekend. That series even had a crazy 15 inning finale on Sunday that went well into the night. As a result, LSU enters the second to last week of the season only 1 game out of the SEC regular season championship. The next two weekends (home vs Auburn, at Mississippi St) will be tough, but this team is starting to show that ability to win by just enough, to claw and scrape and fight for victory. It certainly aint pretty, but baseball aint art. And if the Tigers have enough fight to overcome the competition and themselves, there just might be some special times ahead.