STARKVILLE, Miss. — The start of the Southeastern Conference baseball season was an awful lot like the preconference schedule for LSU.
Mason Katz kept hitting home runs and the second-ranked Tigers kept winning, defeating No. 11 Mississippi State 6-4 in 10 innings Friday night at Dudy Noble Field.
LSU won its 12th straight to improve to 17-1. The Tigers and Bulldogs (18-3) will meet again at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Katz hit two two-run homers — including the decisive blow in the 10th — giving him six in four games and a team-leading eight for the season.
His other homer triggered a comeback from a 4-1 deficit after LSU starter Aaron Nola struggled, giving up nine hits and four runs in 5.2 innings.
But the bullpen kept the Tigers in it as Brent Bonvillain threw two scoreless innings, Joey Bourgeois (2-0) threw 1.1 scoreless innings, getting a two-out strikeout with the bases loaded in the eighth, and Chris Cotton pitched a perfect 10th, striking out two, for his sixth save.
“Nola wasn’t his best,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, “but somehow, we hung in there and we fought back and found a way to win.”
The tense, extra-inning game was reminiscent of the five games these two teams played last season, when all but one was decided by one run and two went extra innings.
“Whenever we play Mississippi State, it’s a highly unusual situation if the game is decided by more than one or two runs and the game’s not tied in the last inning,” Mainieri said. “You’ve got to find a way to win these games. They define your season.”
Raph Rhymes, who was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, led off the 10th by walking against Will Cox (2-1). Katz followed with a long drive well beyond the wall in left field.
“Raph worked a full count and got a walk, so I got to see all of his pitches,” Katz said. “The first pitch was a fastball low and away, and the second was a fastball down in the (strike) zone, and I was able to just lift it up out of here.”
Alex Bregman started the LSU rally in the sixth when he singled with one out and continued to second on starting pitcher Jacob Lindgren’s throwing error. After Rhymes struck out for the third time in a row, Katz lined a homer over the wall in left to make it 4-3.
“There was an open base, two out, down by three. I was thinking he probably doesn’t want to throw anything in the strike zone, and if he does, it’ll probably be an off-speed pitch and I’ll just take my walk,” Katz said. “Then it got to 3-1 and I just sat on an off-speed pitch, and he ended up getting some of the plate with a changeup.”
The Tigers tied it in the seventh when Ty Ross led off with a single, moved to second when Chris Chinea reached on a throwing error and came home on two wild pitches by reliever Chad Girodo.
LSU had runners on the corners with none out, but couldn’t break the tie as Mark Laird struck out looking, Bregman popped to second and Rhymes grounded into a forceout.
State missed a scoring opportunity after loading the bases with two out in the eighth against Bonvillain. Bourgeois — who had to leave the game Wednesday night after being struck in the back of the leg by a line drive — got a called strike three on a 2-2 curveball against Hunter Renfroe, who had hit a two-run homer in the first.
“Coach called my fastball early in the count, and I knew I had to get on top so I could work in my breaking ball,” Bourgeois said. “I got ahead and found a way to get my breaking ball over.”
After giving up Renfroe’s homer, Nola threw three scoreless innings and LSU cut the deficit in half with Christian Ibarra’s RBI single in the fourth.
Nola got the first two batters in the fifth, then got into trouble. Adam Frazier got an infield single when his grounder bounced off Katz’s glove.
C.T. Bradford’s single put runners on the corners for Renfroe, who hit a hard grounder that bounced off Ibarra at third for an RBI single and went straight to Bregman at short, who overthrew Katz at first for an error that sent Bradford to third. Alex Detz singled home Bradford to make it 4-1.
“We were disappointed it got to 4-1,” Mainieri said. “We had a couple of misplays in that inning, but we made some big pitches to get out of some jams.”