After Friday night’s collapse against Arkansas, it was important that the Tigers started the game off on the right foot. After escaping a 2 on, 1 out situation in the top of the 1st, LSU attacked Arkansas’ Kacey Murphy right from the jump. Zach Watson, batting leadoff tonight, hit a double into the right corner, then legged out a run on a deep single by Antoine Duplantis, with a play at the plate that had to be confirmed by review. Daniel Cabrera scored another run on another deep center field single to give LSU an early 2-0 lead.
Unfortunately, the Hogs got it all back in the 3rd. Dominic Fletcher hit a screaming line drive over the wall in right to score 2 and tie the game. In the top of the 5th, Arkansas took the lead as Ma’Khail Hilliard started to falter. A lead-off HBP on Eric Cole came around to score on a bases loaded walk. LSU was able to escape further damage in that inning with a well executed double play, but the lead had been surrendered.
The Hogs held the lead until the bottom of the 7th. Buoyed by some of the best relief work we’ve seen from Devin Fontenot, who entered in the 6th, LSU small-balled Arkansas to death. A swinging bunt single by Beau Jordan, a miss handled sac bunt by Brandt Broussard, and another bunt by Hal Hughes had the Tigers with 2 runners in scoring position with one out, prompting a pitching change. Watson then loaded the bases on a walk and Austin Bain dropped a single perfectly into center field for 2 runs, giving LSU a 4-3 lead.
LSU increased their lead in the 8th by taking advantage of an Arkansas pinch runner subbed in to play 1st base. ARK’s Jordan McFarland was unsettled at the position, and his mistakes allowed the Tigers to gain some unearned insurance runs. After a lead off walk by Hunter Feduccia, McFarland booted a ground ball by Jordan. With 2 outs, Watson drove one into the dirt right in front of the plate, causing it to bounce high and oddly. ARK’S pitcher Jake Reindl caught the pop while losing his footing, but threw to first higher than his defenseman was ready for. LSU scored 2 more as the ball rolled around the bullpen.
While Fontenot had been surprisingly good over 3 innings, that was as far as Coach Mainieri was willing to trust him. Caleb Gilbert started the 9th with a 3 run lead and immediately there were problems. Pinch hitter Luke Bonfield got a lead off walk and moved to 2nd on a wild pitch. Eric Cole hit a ground ball single into center that scored Bonfield and cut the lead to 6-4. After two pitches to his third batter of the night, Gilbert was pulled for Todd Peterson mid at-bat. Peterson was able to induce a pop-up, then struck out the remaining 2 Arkansas batters to seal the save, just his second of the year. Notably, Arkansas’s final batter LF Heston Kjerstad struck out in all five of his at-bats, a nice accomplishment on a night were LSU was giving out sombreros to the fans.
LSU had a good night defensively, with Zach Watson flashing some speed in center field.
With the win, LSU evened the series and breathed a little life into their rocky post season picture. Sunday gives the Tigers a chance to notch an unlikely series win against the top team in the SEC West. In a division where even LSU is only 3 games back of the leader, anything is possible if the Tigers can keep their head above water. Sunday’s game 3 starts at 2pm on SECN+. LSU announced mid-week starter Fr RHP AJ Labas is getting the call for the series finale against So RHP Isaiah Campbell.