COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M put an end to LSU’s streak — by a few inches.
In a one-play embodiment of this tightly played series, Texas A&M’s Ronnie Gideon hit a solo home run that barely cleared the left-field wall — it bounced off LSU outfielder Jake Fraley’s glove — and the Aggies beat the Tigers 4-3 Sunday afternoon to clinch the teams’ Southeastern Conference baseball series.
A&M won the final two games after LSU’s 10-inning win Friday, ending by the slimmest of margins the Tigers’ SEC series winning streak at four.
Each of the three games was decided by one run, and the winner in each had a crucial late-inning hit to deliver the victory.
Gideon had the last of those, a first-pitch smash off of Joe Broussard that just left Blue Bell Park. The ball at least nicked Fraley’s glove as he hung it over the left-field wall.
“Sometimes it’s a game of inches,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “You have to overcome everything. You have to be good enough to overcome everything.”
A group of LSU relievers had another collapse after starter Alden Cartwright hurled a three-hitter through four innings and left with the lead. Cody Glenn gave up two hits and two runs in a shaky fifth inning to give the Aggies the lead, and Broussard allowed that game-winning shot.
The Tigers left a runner stranded on third base with one out twice, were caught stealing twice and picked off once.
“We’ve got to come through in those situations,” shortstop Alex Bregman said of stranding the runners at third. “We give up four runs, three runs — we should be able to win those games.”
The wasted chances and blunders sent LSU (35-13-1, 13-10-1) to its first series loss since late March at Florida. It puts Mainieri’s group in a precarious position with two SEC series left in the regular season.
The Tigers’ RPI is hovering in the mid-to-late teens, and they slid back to third in the SEC West, trailing Ole Miss by 1 1/2 games and Mississippi State by a half-game. LSU is fifth overall in the league. The top four avoid the single-elimination first round of the SEC tournament.
“This is not a dagger in our hearts by any stretch of the imagination,” Mainieri said.
LSU hosts West fourth-place Alabama (30-17, 13-11) this weekend and ends the regular season at last-place Auburn.
Either way, LSU has put itself in a pressure-packed position. A top-eight national seed looks grim, but a strong finish could land the Tigers as one of 16 teams to host an NCAA regional.
“We’ve got seven games left,” Mainieri said. “One of the ESPN guys asked me before the game, ‘You think this is a must-win today to be able to host (an NCAA regional)?’ I said, ‘No. You can’t say that. What if we win our last six games in the SEC and finish (19-11-1)? Maybe that wins the West. Maybe it doesn’t but finishes us in the top four (overall).”
Things would have been so much easier had Mainieri’s crew just closed out one — or both — of the weekend games at Blue Bell Park, a cozy setting tucked in the shadow of A&M’s massive football stadium, Kyle Field.
LSU’s bullpen struggled for the third time in three games.
On Sunday, the Tigers used three pitchers in a rocky fifth, and the Aggies scored two runs to take a 3-2 lead.
A&M opened the frame by getting a double and a single off Glenn. He also threw low to second base on a chopper back to the mound, a double play wasted as the runner was safe. It was Glenn’s first appearance in more than two weeks.
“Thought I’d give him another shot,” Mainieri said. “Didn’t work out the way I had hoped it would.”
Brady Domangue walked the only batter he faced to load the bases with one out, and A&M took the lead on Nick Banks’ RBI sacrifice fly off Zac Person.
“There’s been a lot of stress on our relievers,” said Cartwright, a freshman out of Runnels. “I’m not mad at them. They’ve done a lot of good things for us this year.”
Christian Ibarra tied it with a one-out double to the wall in the seventh. He took third on the throw home but was stranded after ground outs from Andrew Stevenson and Mark Laird.
Stevenson and Laird went hitless in the third inning, too, stranding Tyler Moore at third.
“When you get a runner to third base and less than two outs, you should almost feel that’s an automatic run for you,” Mainieri said.
The Aggies (30-19, 12-12) left six runners in scoring position and stranded the bases loaded in the sixth. They needed Gideon’s shot in the eighth inning. The soaring homer cleared the wall, bounced off Fraley’s glove and hit in the parking lot beyond left field to incite a wild celebration from a team battling for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
LSU? It has a spot, but who knows where.
“I told the kids,” Mainieri said, “ ‘A lot of people are going to speculate on where everything falls now. You can’t worry about that. All you can do it take it one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time.’ ”