The LSU baseball team entered its regular-season finale against Ole Miss on Saturday with virtually nothing at stake.
The Tigers already had clinched the best regular-season and Southeastern Conference records in school history. They were locked in as the No. 2 seed in next week’s SEC tournament and are seemingly guaranteed to be seeded in the NCAA tournament.
So coach Paul Mainieri took the opportunity to let seniors Raph Rhymes and Mason Katz make a cameo appearance, bat once and leave to a standing ovation from the Alex Box Stadium crowd.
Mainieri was able to give several other starters the day off and let several reserves, including seniors Alex Edward and Casey Yocom, play a full SEC game.
By the time the Rebels had hit four home runs and come from behind to win 11-9, Mainieri had moved on to more pressing business, having left in the eighth inning to attend his son Tommy’s graduation from Catholic High School.
The wild game, which at 3 hours and 44 minutes was the longest nine-inning LSU game of the season, merely filled in the final blank in the regular season as LSU finished 48-8 and 23-7 in the SEC.
“That was one of the funnest games I’ve ever been a part of,” Katz said.
“It was unfortunate that we lost, because the guys played so hard, but I’m so proud of our team. They played so well.”
The Tigers’ lineup of mostly backups knocked out Ole Miss ace Bobby Wahl, a top MLB prospect, with a seven-run third inning.
“We just faced a first-round draft choice, and those guys off the bench scored nine runs and six off of him (to knock) him out in the third,” Katz said.
“That doesn’t happen. I’m sure he walked out to the mound after looking at our lineup and seeing Raph and I come out in the second inning and thought, ‘Thank you for the gimme win.’ ”
Wahl wasn’t able to get his 10th win, but he avoided his first loss when the Rebels rallied for five runs in the seventh after the Tigers had taken a 9-5 lead.
Brent Bonvillain yielded a single and a walk, and Kevin Berry (4-1) relieved. Preston Overbey hit his second homer of the game and fifth of the season to cut LSU’s lead to one.
Will Jamison doubled ahead of Will Allen’s homer to put the Rebels ahead. That was the fourth homer given up by the Tigers, who had allowed just one multi-homer game — when Alcorn State hit two April 2.
“We made some mistakes in the strike zone in situations where they did a nice job of swinging the bat,” said LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn, who filled in for Mainieri during postgame interviews. “Their guys didn’t quit, and we didn’t execute some pitches. That’s baseball.”
Starter Ryan Eades lasted just four innings and gave up five runs, duplicating his numbers at Arkansas and Alabama in the only other subpar outings among his 14 starts.
“It wasn’t Ryan’s ‘A’ game today,” Dunn said.
Overbey’s first home run gave the Rebels a 2-0 lead in the second before the Tigers got to Wahl. Yocom had a leadoff single, the first of his four hits after having just five for the season. Andrew Stevenson singled him to third and, one out later, Chris Sciambra, Edward and Tyler Moore had consecutive RBI singles to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead.
Chris Chinea’s sacrifice fly made it 4-2 before Wahl walked Michael Barash and Chris Ellis relieved. Jared Foster doubled in a run, and Yocom hit a two-run single to make it 7-2.
“I think that was the funnest inning I’ve ever played in baseball,” Katz said. “And I was sitting on the bench.”
Austin Anderson’s three-run homer got Ole Miss within 7-5 in the fourth, but LSU increased the lead to 9-5 in the sixth on Jared Foster’s RBI grounder and Yocom’s RBI single.
After the Rebels’ five-run seventh, the Tigers put the tying run on third with one out in the bottom half. Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, whose team had lost the first two games of the series to fall below .500 in the SEC, went to closer Brett Huber, who got out of the jam and ended up with his 12th save.
Chinea, a freshman making his first SEC start, was 2-for-4 with a hit by pitch, a sacrifice fly, an RBI and a run.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I got my feet wet with six (plate appearances) today. It didn’t end the way I wanted it to, but I got some pitches to hit, and I felt great at the plate.”