HOOVER, Ala. — This is a place where LSU opponents and their dreams go to die.
Top-seeded and top-ranked LSU overcame its largest deficit of the season, mounting an improbable, five-run comeback — twice — in a 9-8 win over Auburn on Wednesday night to continue its Southeastern Conference tournament magic.
The Tigers (47-9) won an eighth straight SEC tournament game, an 11th straight game at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium and avoided the loser’s bracket of an event they’ve dominated.
“Our guys don’t flinch,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “They know we have a good offensive team.”
Down five runs twice — 5-0 after the first inning and 8-3 entering the fifth — Mainieri’s boys rolled up six hits and six runs in a wild fifth inning to roar back from the depths and beat Auburn (35-23), a team on the NCAA regional bubble.
Conner Hale, Kade Scivicque, Chris Chinea and Chris Sciambra all had run-scoring hits in that explosive fifth inning, and Jared Foster launched his first home run in 17 games to help LSU win a 24th game in the last 28.
Hunter Devall, Hunter Newman, Zac Person and Parker Bugg strung together four scoreless innings, and the Tigers continued their pursuit of a third straight SEC tournament title and a sixth in the past eight years at a comfy site for this squad.
Mainieri is 23-4 in the event and 26-4 in this stadium, including a three-game sweep earlier this season against Alabama.
“It just feels like home. We feel like home here,” designated hitter Chris Sciambra said.
Bugg got the save, striking out his final batter with the tying run at second base to incite a massive roar from an estimated 3,000-plus LSU fans that invaded their home away from home — the Hoover Met.
The Tigers will meet No. 5 seed Arkansas (35-20) in the Thursday’s nightcap winner’s bracket final. Arkansas beat No. 2 seed Florida in Wednesday’s late game, scoring three runs in the ninth inning for a wild comeback. The Hogs are one of the hottest teams in the nation, having won 20 of their last 26 games.
A win Thursday night would give the Tigers a day off Friday and thrust LSU into the semifinals Saturday.
“It’s a whole lost easier to get to where we want to be rather than losing this one and having to play four straight days in a row,” Bugg said.
LSU won despite sophomore starter Jared Poché lasting just one inning — a nightmarish first frame that included five runs, three hits, two walks and an error. The one-inning start was the shortest, by far, of Poché’s LSU career and sent LSU into that 5-0 hole.
No problem, right?
“We never really lost confidence after we got that five-run deficit in the first,” Bugg said. “We knew that they would come out swinging.”
Mainieri’s club began its comeback in the fifth inning, down 8-3. The Tigers left leading 9-8.
“We were going to trust our method. We knew we had great hitters,” Person said. “The only way to allow eight runs and win … is to have good enough hitters to score nine.”
Foster started the inning with a double, and Scivicque and Chinea had doubles, too. Jake Fraley, Hale and Sciambra all had singles. Chinea doubled on a bizarre play that tied the game at 8.
Auburn right fielder Damon Haecker lost Chinea’s two-out pop-fly in short right field. The ball fell behind him, and Scivicque scored. Sciambra then delivered the go-ahead and eventual game-winning shot on a line drive to right field, scoring Chinea from second base.
“The ball that we missed in the outfield … it was just that time of day,” Auburn coach Sunny Golloway said. “It’s light sky, just getting ready to turn to dusk.”
The Tigers chased AU starter Rocky McCord during the inning and then dinged up reliever Trey Wingenter. LSU’s rally started in the second. Foster had a two-run homer to make it 5-3 after Sciambra’s RBI double — both with two outs.
“They can flat hit,” Golloway said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason.”
Person was on the mound for some tense moments late in the game. He struck out the final batter of the seventh inning with runners at first and second, and he struck two of the final three batters to strand a leadoff single in the eighth.
“We held (the lead) there,” Person said, “until our guys could come through for us.”
The game began an hour and a half after the scheduled 4:30 p.m. first pitch as thunderstorms were expected to sweep through the Birmingham area. They never did. Poché tossed the first pitch of the game at 6 p.m. amid cloudy skies. He didn’t finish that first half-inning until 20 minutes later. He walked two, allowed three hits — including a two-run double — and five runs.
Just two of the runs were earned. Poché was involved in a one-out error, but it was credited to first baseman Chris Chinea. Poché couldn’t hold on to a flip from Chinea on a groundball. Poché retired the first batter of the inning before issuing back-to-back walks. Chinea committed his error and then Blake Logan and Alex Polston blasted run-scoring singles. Ebert Nulph crushed a two-run, two-out double to make it 5-0 before Poché struck out Auburn’s ninth batter of the inning.
A five-run hole? LSU hitters didn’t mind. Another five-run hole? That’s no problem – not here in Hoover.
“Playing here,” Sciambra said, “you get comfortable.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv .