LSU had to sweat this one out – and it had nothing to do with the mid-March heat.
The Tigers rallied in the eighth and ninth innings to tie the game and they won it with a two-run 10th inning, beating Southern 4-2 on Tuesday night at Lee-Hines Field to avoid a stunning loss.
Ranked No. 1 in the nation in at least one poll, LSU (19-2) didn’t grab its first lead until that 10th inning. Shortstop Alex Bregman and first baseman Chris Chinea drove in outfielders Jake Fraley and Mark Laird for the eventual winning runs.
Fraley opened the frame with a sliding double, and Laird followed with a single.
Closer Jesse Stallings, who blew a save the last time out, pitched a perfect 10th for his ninth save of the season – one more than Joe Broussard had all of last year – and the Tigers survived despite clutch-hitting struggles and a near game-long deficit.
“I’m sure there weren’t a lot of people in the city giving Southern a chance tonight,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “It’s just another reminder that anything can happen in baseball.”
Southern starter Tyler Robinson shut out the Tigers and allowed just three hits in his seven innings on the mound, and the Jaguars (3-11) led 1-0 from the third to the eighth inning. Robinson baffled the Tigers with a volley of breaking balls, striking out five in a 94-pitch gem of a performance that had Mainieri raving afterward.
“Their kid pitched his heart out for seven innings,” Mainieri said. “I don’t think he missed a spot the whole night. (Southern pitching coach) Dan Canevri called an unbelievable game. They had us totally off balance. We didn’t know what was coming.”
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LSU finished the game 1 for 13 with runners in scoring positions, and they left at least one runner at third or second in six of the first eight frames.
The Tigers’ pitching was solid until the eighth, when relievers Alden Cartwright walked two straight batters and Parker Bugg followed with a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk to score the go-ahead run and make it 2-1.
Southern couldn’t close the deal, though. Three out from their first victory over the cross-town powerhouse since 2005, the Jaguars let it slip away.
LSU center fielder Andrew Stevenson, who led off with a double, scored on pinch-hitter Chris Sciambra’s popout to short right field to tie it, and sidewinder Colin Strall, who got the win, retired the final two batters in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run at second base.
“When you’re playing the No. 1 team in the land, you have to be able to finish,” SU coach Roger Cador said. “It’s difficult to finish against them.”
LSU avoided what would have been just its third loss in a 53-game series against Southern, and Mainieri’s club now hits the road for a three-game series against Arkansas starting Thursday. They do it on a two-game winning streak, but not celebrating.
Stallings retired the final three batters in the 10th to elicit the mildest of celebrations from a team that’s ranked in the top 3 in all six of the major college baseball polls.
“Championship teams find ways to win games,” Bregman said. “It doesn’t have to be the prettiest.”
Stallings got redemption. He blew the save on Saturday against Ole Miss, an eventual 14-inning loss to the Rebels.
“Felt good. I was ready to get back out there,” Stallings said.
He helped the Tigers win a closer-than-expected game against a team that had lost series earlier this season against Prairie View A&M and South Dakota State.
The Jags got an all-star outing from Robinson, a righty who entered with a 4.61 ERA.
“I felt all along Tyler was going to pitch good,” Cador said. “He was going to pitch his game and was smart enough to know that the only way he could be successful was to move the ball in the zone and change speed and he did that masterfully.”
As the ninth inning neared with Southern clinging to a 1-0 lead, the attendance at Lee-Hines field steadily grew.
By the time LSU tied it in the eighth inning, the small stadium was at capacity. About 100 people hung from the railing of the overpass that looks over the field and a few vehicles, even, stopped on the overpass to get a glimpse of the shocker-in-the-making.
Second baseman Jared Foster had consecutive errors in the third inning, booting a ball and skipping the next one to first base, to help Southern to a 1-0 lead.
The errors gave LSU 25 this season. The Tigers had 16 errors at this point in the year last season.
“I’m going to have to evaluate the plays,” said Mainieri about Foster, who moved in from the outfield just last week. “I don’t think Foster is s choker. He just needs some more experience.”
Scoreless for the first seven innings of the game, Bregman’s groundout in the eighth scored Fraley to tie it. Fraley led off the inning by walking in Robinson’s final batter faced.
LSU’s bats substantially cooled from Sunday’s offensive outburst against the Rebels. The Tigers were in search of offense so badly that Mainieri pinch hit freshman Greg Deichmann, a Brother Martin product, in the seventh inning. He grounded out in his first collegiate at-bat.
Reynolds had his longest outing in two years – he sat out recovering from a shoulder surgery last season. His highlight came in the third. With men on second and third and one out, he retired the final two batters.
Reynolds went four innings, allowing just three hits, walking none and striking out three in a solid start that thrusts him closer to locking up the No. 4 starting role.
Grayson Byrd, a freshman, played flawless in starting for Conner Hale at third base, the fourth different player to start at that bag this season.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.