HOOVER, Ala. – Over the course roughly nine innings, Mike Oczypok cut the figure of anything but a walk-on freshmen on the mound for Alabama.
It was the lone out that proved to be the Pennsylvania’s native undoing with a one-run lead and a lone out standing in front of a complete game victory against the second-seeded LSU Tigers.
First baseman Tyler Moore cracked a double into the left field gap, scoring pinch-runner Tyler Moore from first to knot the game 2-2 in the top of the ninth inning.
And after Oczypok was lifted for reliever Jay Shaw, Ty Ross smacked the third offering into left field to score Moore for the go-ahead run against the seventh-seeded Crimson Tide in a 3-2 victory Friday at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium
A rally looked doomed, though, after Mason Katz singled to open the inning only to see Raph Rhymes ground into LSU’s fourth double play of the day.
Yet, Christian Ibarra answered with a single to left field, followed by Moore coming in to pinch run. After running the count full to Moore, Oczypok hung a breaking ball that the first baseman mashed to the wall in the gap.
Equal parts harrowing and thrilling, the Tigers (50-9) moved on to the weekend on day where it struggled to hit with runners aboard, stranding six men, and the heart of its order in Alex Bregman, Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes were largely silenced.
Until its comeback, it also appeared to squander the best start from Ryan Eades in at least a month, with the Slidell native only touched by Alabama (35-25) for two earned runs over seven innings.
Critically, the Tigers only staked Eades (8-2), who struck out four batters and needed only an efficient 72 pitches to reach the seventh inning, to a one-run lead despite loading the bases in the top of the fourth inning.
Until the bottom of the fifth, Eades largely strolled through the Crimson Tide order, until a lead-off walk to Ben Moore in the bottom of the fifth inning unraveled the quality start.
On his first offering to Mike White, the short stop roped a liner into the left field gap. Center fielder Andrew Stevenson laid out to snare the grab, but came up short as the ball bounced and rolled to the wall. White scored easily, while White held up a third.
A strikeout of Austen Smith was only a lull, too.
Catcher Brett Booth put the Tide ahead 2-1 when he shot an Eades pitch the other way into right field to score White and only a lone out for LSU.
Eades, who struggled in a start last week against Ole Miss and carried in a 5.79 ERA over his past five outings, struck out Andrew Miller and got Chance Vincent to fly out to Stevenson to end the threat.
But the damaged already been inflicted. It was a stark contrast to a start where he only faced the minimum number of batters and allowed a lone base runner over the first four innings.
Yet, the scope was relatively modest considering Eades recent struggles.
And an inning later, he skirted trouble after Kenny Roberts leadoff single past a ranging Alex Bregman shortstop and a sacrifice bunt from Georgie Salem.
Mark Laird saved a run when he darted to his left and dove to bring in a fly ball off the bat of Kyle Overstreet for the second out. Meanwhile Eades fanned Ben Moore to end the inning.
Granted, the Tigers suddenly sputtering offense squandered chances to stockpile runs for their starter, including a bases-loaded chance in the top of the fourth inning
Mark Laird’s hustle out of the box up the first-base line for an infield single was the first stirring of a breakthrough after being silenced by aces on the mound the first two days in Hoover. Two batters later, Rhymes lifted a harmless fly into right field, but Crimson Tide right fielder bobbled the catch and dropped it charging in to make the play. Laird easily moved to third on the error, and Oczypok loaded the bases when he plunked Christian Ibarra on a 3-1 inside fastball.
It all went for naught.
On the second pitch offered up, first baseman Tyler Moore chopped a grounder to first baseman Austen Smith, who knocked the ball down with his chest, picked it up and made the putout.
Oczypok largely cruised from there, working around a two-out single from Stevenson in the fifth inning and sat down Bregman, Katz and Rhymes in order during the sixth. It was part of a stretch where he retired nine-consecutive batters until Laird’s single in the top of the ninth when things unraveled.
Oczypok went 8.2 innings, allowing three runs on just three hits and striking out five in his first start since a victory over Mississippi Valley State on May 7
LSU did stake its starter to a 1-0 lead with two outs in the third inning, when Sean McMullen drove a hanging breaking ball deep into the left field gap.
Tyson Moore, who singled and advanced on a sacrifice bunt, scored easily from second base. McMullen made the turn at second, but was thrown out at third base to end the inning.
The run ended a eight-inning scoreless streak for a Tigers’ offense that had been anemic since a three-run first inning Wednesday in its opener against the Crimson Tide.
Yet LSU appeared mired in its funk early on a day when it grounded into two early double plays.
After McMullen notched an in-field single to lead off the game, Mark Laird lashed a comebacker to Bama starter Mark Oczypok on the hill. The freshman hurler pivoted and fired to second baseman Kyle Overstree to start a double play.
An inning later, first baseman Mason Katz knocked an opposite field single to right, but the middle of the Tiger’s order, which entered just 7 for 22 in the tournament, failed to capitalize.
Raph Rhymes harmlessly chopped Oczypok offering to third baseman Kenny Roberts, triggering an inning-ending double play.