STARKVILLE, Miss. — JaCoby Jones finally got hot, Mason Katz stayed hot and Ryan Eades never let Mississippi State’s hitters get hot.
In the end LSU’s second-ranked baseball team beat the No. 11 Bulldogs for the second straight night in this Southeastern Conference-opening series, prevailing 7-3 Saturday night at Dudy Noble Field.
The Tigers won their 12th in a row to improve to 18-1, their best start since the 1997 team won its first 19 games on its way to capturing winning the College World Series. They’ll try to sweep State in the series finale at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Katz hit his third homer in the series and seventh in five games to stake Eades (4-0) to a 1-0 lead in the second.
Jones, mired in a weeks-long slump, responded to a move to the top of the batting order with a two-run double in the fifth and another double in a three-run ninth. Those were his first two extra-base hits and second and third runs batted in during the last 14 games.
“It was just a matter of time,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said of Jones’ breakout game. “I talked to JaCoby (Friday) night and I knew today he was going to come out of it. I just felt it in my bones.”
Jones’ batting average slipped to .214 after he went 0-for-5 in LSU’s 6-4, 10-inning victory Friday night. He struck out two times and went out four times with runners on base.
It looked like it was going to be more of the same for Jones early in Saturday’s game as he struck out to start it, then hit into a double play after Andrew Stevenson was hit by a pitch in the third.
But things changed in the fifth. Ty Ross led off with a walk, Stevenson sacrificed him to second and Stevenson reached as third baseman Alex Detz overran the ball for an error.
Jones worked the count to 2-0 before State coach John Cohen pulled starting pitcher Evan Mitchell and replaced him with left-hander Ross Mitchell. Jones lined a 2-2 pitch into the gap in right-center, driving home both runners.
“He threw me two fastballs so I knew what his fastball looked like,” Jones said. “I was looking for something away because they like to pitch me away, but he got it a little in and I got my hands in and got the barrel on it.”
Eades, meanwhile, pitched seven strong innings, though he never had a 1-2-3 inning. Joey Bourgeois pitched a scoreless eighth and Chris Cotton finished for the second straight night, though he gave up a two-run homer in the ninth.
“Ryan was just a man out there today,” Mainieri said. “I thought he dominated the game. He allowed some base runners, but he always raises his game in the most clutch situations.”
Eades, a right-hander facing a lineup featuring seven left-handed hitters, allowed a walk and a single with one out in the first, a one-out walk in the second, a leadoff single in the third, a leadoff double in the fourth and a two-out single in the fifth but kept State scoreless until the sixth.
That’s when Trey Porter got his second consecutive double with one out and moved to third on a wild pitch. He came home on Jacob Robson’s grounder to make it 3-1.
Eades allowed a two-out single in the seventh, then got a lineout on his 108th and final pitch.
State batters were 0-for-12 in innings after they got a hit and Eades struck out eight.
“I don’t try to get myself in jams, I promise you,” Eades said. “I think coach’s hair gets a little whiter when I pitch sometimes. I get myself in those situations sometimes and I just have to rise up and make good pitches.”
LSU increased the lead to 4-1 on Ty Ross’ RBI single in the eighth. Alex Bregman broke the game open with a three-run homer in the ninth, his second of the season and first in SEC play.
“We had guys on base (second and third) so they had to throw me strikes,” Bregman said. “I was just trying to get something into the air and I got a good swing on it.”
The Tigers have clinched the series, the fifth consecutive time they have won a series in Starkville. State lost for the fourth time in five games after a 17-0 start.
“Right now, we have to find an identity,” Cohen said. “When you are struggling, players try too hard to make the great play. We just have to calm down, find our identity and focus on making the average play and not forcing ourselves to try to do something great.”