OXFORD, Miss. — Sitting on the charter bus to Oxford, LSU third base coach Nolan Cain and Paul Mainieri conversed about the arm of J.B. Woodman — one Cain classified as “probably one of the best in the league.”
“We still wanted to be aggressive,” Cain said.
The Ole Miss center fielder was prepared.
Woodman, who came into Thursday’s game with six assists from center field, threw out the tying and go-ahead LSU runs at the plate, and the Tigers pitching staff was unable to hold down the Rebels in a 7-6 loss at Swayze Field — an atypical series opener in which neither starter pitched five innings and the teams combined for 21 hits.
“I think that they’re pretty fast as a team, Woodman said. “I think that’s what they do is send guys like that, and you’ve just got to put a good throw on it when you can.”
Rebels starter Brady Bramlett struggled with command against a patient LSU lineup, needing 72 pitches to escape his first three innings as LSU peppered him for six hits and four runs. He recorded just one more out, exiting in the fourth after 87 pitches with runners on first and second and one out.
Reliever Andy Pagnozzi entered to face Jake Fraley, who shot a line drive single up the middle to Woodman. Cain waved Cole Freeman, who was reading the ball down but had to hesitate in fear the line drive may be caught, home from second.
Woodman uncorked a missile to get Freeman at the plate and erase the go-ahead run.
“I felt like he was a step past third when the guy picked up the ball and made the throw,” Cain said. “Of course, (Woodman) puts it on the cash. It’s a bang-bang play. In an environment like this, you have to take your chances when you can. Certainly, the one with Cole is the one I would want back more than anything.”
Added Freeman: “I never really could get the great angle, didn’t get the turn that you would want to. As soon as he hit that ball, I was expecting to go. And for him to send me, we obviously have all the trust in the world in Nolan … You’ve got to credit them. The dude came up and made a solid strike.”
Down 7-6 and with pinch runner Brennan Breaux representing the tying run at second, Antoine Duplantis sent a two-out, two-strike single into center field off Rebels southpaw closer Wyatt Short.
Cain waved Breaux, who was also easily out.
“You can’t wait around for a two-out hit,” Cain said. “Duplantis battled his heart out, he gets a hit. All their outfielders are playing in, but there’s two strikes, two outs and Brennan’s going on the swing. You have to make that guy make that throw, and he did.”
Cain said he had “no regrets” about sending Breaux.
“If I could have the Freeman one back, I would 100 percent want that one back,” Cain said. “You never know what can happen in a situation like that with one out. But again, sometimes you have to pick and choose when you take your chances.”
“I feel like a lot of this loss falls on my shoulders with that send.”
LSU scored in the first, third and sixth innings, but none of them was followed by a shutdown, scoreless inning from its pitching staff. The ultimate undoing was in the sixth inning as reliever Parker Bugg made what’s recently become an all-too-familiar defensive mishap.
After just allowing a game-tying RBI triple to Errol Robinson, Bugg induced a slow tapper back to the mound as Robinson broke home for the go-ahead run.
The 6-foot-6 Tigers right-hander overthrew catcher Jordan Romero — LSU’s second error of the night — allowing the run to score and the enthused Robinson to gesture toward his dugout in elation. Bugg threw the ball overhanded.
“I probably should have underhanded, with how close I was to Romero,” Bugg said. “We do that all the time in practice. I should have underhanded it and not tried to throw it when we were that short. That’s pretty much what it came down to, allowed another run that pretty much cost us the game.”
A threat again manifested in the seventh. LSU got one back following Bugg’s blunder when Greg Deichmann grounded into an RBI fielder’s choice that scored Kramer Robertson.
Rebels reliever Will Stokes then picked off Deichmann at first base, ending the threat.
LSU starter Jared Poche matched Bramlett with his shortest outing of the season, a four-inning nightmare in which he allowed five doubles and four earned runs but stranded the go-ahead run in scoring position after the hits in the first and third innings.
Romero had three RBIs, his last two coming on a booming third-inning double off the base of the center field wall, putting LSU ahead 4-2.
It was a lead that, like others, his pitchers were unable to maintain.
Bugg shouldered blame. As did Cain. Mainieri accepted none of it.
“Nolan should not blame himself. He did the right thing, 100 percent,” Mainieri said. “Even the one early in the game with one out, I have no fault with him sending him there. It’s aggressive baseball. It’s not like we were losing by three or four runs and we took an unnecessary gamble. The score’s tied early in the game, you force him to make a play with one of our fastest runners. And you have to give them credit, they made the play.”