His team already down by three runs, LSU left fielder Beau Jordan charged a ball that many expected to fall at his feet. Mississippi State’s Hunter Stovall broke from first base, where he had stood after a fourth-inning single off Tigers reliever Russell Reynolds.
Jordan dived, reaching his glove near the grass. He caught the ball before rolling over in a heap and popping up to fire a throw to first base that arrived just after Stovall slid in. It saved at least a single and perhaps prevented another run, sparking LSU to an 11-8 win at Alex Box Stadium that avoided a series sweep.
Lamenting his team’s 2-1 loss Saturday night, LSU coach Paul Mainieri adamantly reinforced that a sequence just like this one had been missing. There’s no margin for error in Southeastern Conference play, he said, and defensive fundamentals had evaded LSU to that point in the series — back-to-back losses as it committed four errors and had a crucial passed ball.
“Today was a much more crisp day for us,” Mainieri said, “and we needed it.”
Jordan’s dive was a welcome sight. So was Antoine Duplantis’ fifth-inning hustle to backhand a single rolling toward the right-field corner, hurrying his throw in to hold State’s Nathaniel Lowe to one base.
And Chris Reid’s brazen backhand at third to quell a sixth-inning threat? That was the apex of a flawlessly played defensive game, one Mainieri requested after Saturday’s loss and one buoyed by an offensive assault on the Mississippi State bullpen.
In a nearly four-hour affair that featured 15 pitchers, LSU entered the fourth inning without a hit, only to score 11 runs and smash 10 hits across the next three innings. It cycled through nine Mississippi State arms while the Tigers bullpen escaped late-inning predicaments to complete the win.
Konnor Pilkington, a freshman southpaw announced as Mississippi State’s starter Sunday morning, no-hit the Tigers (27-13, 10-8) through his first three innings with a fastball sitting in the low 90s that paired nicely with home plate umpire Darrell Arnold’s generous outside strike zone. He ambled to the mound in the fourth inning having retired nine in a row.
“He was challenging us a lot with the fastball early,” LSU’s Kramer Robertson said. “We went up there looking fastball, trying to be aggressive and drive the ball. We finally strung a few hits together and put some clutch hits together as well.”
Jake Fraley began that inning with a popup, just to the right of Pilkington’s pitching rubber. He dived for the ball. So did Lowe, scurrying in from first base. It fell between them in the infield grass for LSU’s first hit.
“I told (the team) that whenever my career is over, whenever that is, that’s probably going to be one of my best hits at LSU,” Fraley said of the blooper, the first of LSU’s 10 hits across the next three innings. “That’s why baseball, you love it and you hate it at the same time.”
Two of those 10 hits were from Jordan Romero, massive doubles that banged off the wall in the fourth and fifth. Robertson followed with a double of his own in the fifth — one of seven LSU extra-base hits — before Bryce Jordan unloaded a two-run homer into the left-field seats, upping the score to 8-3.
For only the second time in his LSU career, Robertson snuck a solo home run around the left-field foul pole in the sixth, increasing the Tigers’ lead over State (27-13-1, 10-8) to 11-5 — a margin the bullpen barely held in the eighth inning, where the go-ahead run stood at the plate with two outs.
Hunter Newman induced a popout to quash the threat before pitching a perfect ninth.
“Great character out of our team to fall behind again after losing the first two games of the weekend, not get their daubers down and keep battling,” Mainieri said. “And they did it. They played hard all weekend, and I’m really proud of him.”
Called upon in relief of starter John Valek III after just 2.1 innings, Reynolds inherited a 3-0 deficit and allowed no further damage. Sitting in the low 90s, Reynolds struck out two and issued no walks across 2.2 innings of two-hit baseball, an affirmation of Mainieri’s recent heightened praise for the veteran who just recently attempted to correct a mechanical issue.
“I was flying open a bit (in my delivery),” he said. “I don’t even know if I fixed it, but it fixed my confidence a little bit, and that’s helped me out so far. (Pitching coach Alan Dunn) always preaches to us to throw up zeros whenever we get runs on the board. That was the whole goal, to go out there, keep us in the game and throw up a zero.”
Reynolds (1-0) righted the proceedings as the offense finally ended its futility-filled 12-inning drought, bashing 12 hits behind an errorless defensive effort to erase the bitterness of the previous two nights.
“We’ve been like that the whole way,” Bryce Jordan said. “I like the fight in this team and love how we never give up. We’re always going to come out here and grind out at-bats.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome