OXFORD, Miss. — LSU survived the marathon in Oxford – partly because of a pair of freshman non-starters.
Pinch-hitting freshman Jake Fraley had an RBI single in the 11th inning, and the Tigers scored the winning run on an Ole Miss error in the 13th, beating the Rebels 4-3 on Thursday night in a nail-biting, nationally-televised series opener.
The teams meet at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Game 2.
Danny Zardon, a freshman who replaced Fraley in the field in the 11th, smacked a grounder toward short in that 13th frame in his only at-bat of the night. The ball skidded through Ole Miss shortstop Errol Robinson’s legs to score Conner Hale with the eventual winning run.
Hale reached with a one-out double to the left field corner.
“Nobody wanted to lose,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “It’s a shame it was decided by an error.”
Reliever Kurt McCune threw a perfect 13th, and LSU (29-9-1, 9-6-1 Southeastern Conference) won a ninth game in 10 tries, opening what Mainieri called a “critical” series with a wild win.
The game lasted 4 hours, 38 minutes, and Ole Miss (29-10, 9-7) tied the score twice to stay in it — first in the eighth inning and then in the 11th. The Tigers had 13 hits and stranded a whopping 14 runners in front of an announced 9,861 at Swayze Field.
“It was a great game,” Hale said afterward. “Long game. Huge win.”
LSU starter Aaron Nola allowed eight hits — including a second-inning solo home run from Sikes Orvis — but rebounded to strike out seven in a season-high 121-pitch outing.
The Tigers took a 3-2 lead in the top of the 11th on an RBI single from Fraley, and the Rebels answered in the top half of the inning, tying the score on an RBI sac-fly from J.B. Woodman off reliever Joe Broussard.
Ole Miss needed an eighth inning rally to send it to extra innings knotted at 2.
The Rebels loaded the bases against Nola in the eighth, tying the score on a two-out RBI groundout to second base. The Tigers broke a 1-all tie in the sixth inning, scoring on an error from Ole Miss second baseman Preston Overby.
The Rebels had their second error at the worst time in that 13th frame.
“Today we didn’t get the big hit, didn’t make the big pitch and didn’t make the play in the field,” said Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, a former LSU catcher.
Zardon’s shot off reliever Jeremy Massie drove in Hale as the LSU dugout erupted in celebration. Hale’s one-out double in the inning came off Ole Miss reliever Josh Laxer’s slider.
“He threw me a fastball and I just missed it,” Hale said. “I had a feeling I wasn’t going to get a fastball. I was waiting for a slider and he threw it.”
Hale opened the 11th with a single, too.
Freshman reliever Parker Bugg retired the side in the 12th after Broussard threw 3.1 innings of one-hit ball, and McCune retired the final three in the 13th.
“It was a long one,” Broussard said. “We had some great people step up for us.”
Ole Miss starter Chris Ellis allowed eight hits and two runs in eight innings of work. He threw 123 pitches, lasting eight innings of this marathon game – the longest LSU had played since the 16-inning affair at Alabama last April.
Many of the 9,861 at Swayze Field exited before the nearly five-hour game came to an end.
The Rebels wasted a key chance at scoring the fifth inning.
Ole Miss’ Will Jamison was thrown at between home and third base attempting a suicide squeeze with one out.
Jamison led off the frame with a single and moved to third on a an error from catcher Tyler Moore, who’s wild throw trying to catch Jamison’s steal slipped into the outfield.
Nola threw a pitch out, and Moore tossed to Christian Ibarra to make the tag for the second out.
Nola got out of host of jams after allowing that second-inning homer, a moon shot that bounced off Mark Laird’s glove in right and hopped over the fence.
Nola allowed five hits over the next six-plus inning, finding his groove and retiring multiple batters with runners in scoring position.
After that homer in the second, Nola picked off a runner at first. He followed it with back-to-back strikeout in front of a bevy of pro scouts.
Nola allowed a lead-off single in the seventh inning before retiring the final three batters.
“Nola pitched his heart out,” Mainieri said.
“I got behind in a good bit of counts,” Nola said. “My put-away pitch wasn’t there for the most part, towards the end. I battled my hardest.”
LSU wore purple jerseys Thursday night, a third time donning the tops this season. The jerseys were originally supposed to be only for batting practice. … Nola’s strikeout of Errol Robinson in the third inning was the Baton Rouge native’s 300th of his career.