FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Someone operating the speaker system at Baum Stadium momentarily forgot which team was visiting.
As LSU readied itself to try to erase an 8-5 deficit it had been chipping away at for the last two innings, someone played Survivor’s 1980s classic anthem “Eye of the Tiger” over the stadium speakers.
LSU improbably rallied from seven runs down through six innings to even the series with Arkansas with a 10-8 win Saturday night. The Tigers scored five runs in the top of the ninth inning, four of which came across with two outs on the courtesy of one big error.
“Sometimes luck is the residue of design,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, channeling baseball icon Branch Rickey.
The #RallyPossum is back ... but did he ever really leave?
With the go-ahead run at second base, Kramer Robertson hit what should’ve been a game-ending ground ball. But after fielding it cleanly, shortstop Jax Biggers fired high of first base, allowing the go-ahead run to come home.
Mainieri told Robertson before the at-bat he wanted his senior shortstop to force a difficult play.
“If it’s a pop-up to the infield, nothing good is going to happen,” Mainieri recalled. “He smashed that ball and forced the kid to make a play.”
The Razorbacks then made another error on Greg Deichmann’s ensuing chopper to second base. Arkansas employed a shift against Deichmann, putting second baseman Carson Shaddy in shallow right field. Shaddy had to charge the slow bouncer and fell as he was trying to field it, allowing Robertson to score.
Those were the first two errors committed by Arkansas in the series.
All told, LSU’s five ninth inning runs came home courtesy of a bases-loaded hit batter, a wild pitch and a pair of errors.
Of course, it still wasn’t going to be easy after that.
Closer Hunter Newman came on to protect the two-run lead and immediately found himself in trouble.
He walked pinch-hitter Evan Lee to start the inning, then allowed a double to No. 8 hitter Evan Cole to put the tying run in scoring position with nobody out.
“Leadoff walks are never good, especially in the ninth inning,” Newman said. “I had to get over that and start making pitches.”
He locked in. He was the first LSU pitcher to retire Biggers on the night, getting him to pop up to second base for the first out. Leadoff man Jake Arledge then flew out to shallow left field, keeping the runners in place.
Then, Mainieri went against conventional wisdom. He decided to intentionally walk first baseman Chad Spanberger to load the bases and put the winning run on base on purpose.
Going into that at-bat, Spanberger was 3 for 4 with five RBIs and had already crushed a mammoth home run — his second of the series — to straight away center field into the teeth of a strong wind.
“Spanberger was so hot,” Mainieri said. “… He proved even with the wind blowing in, the ball park can’t hold him. Even though I have a lot of respect for (Luke) Bonfield — he’s a great hitter — I just thought we’d take our chances.”
The move paid off. Newman struck out Bonfield on an 0-2 curveball to leave the bases loaded and preserve the win. It was the sixth time Arkansas stranded three runners to end an inning in the series.
All of which is crazy considering the way the game started.
LSU starter Jared Poché needed 76 pitches to get through his 3.1 innings, as Arkansas worked him for seven runs on nine hits and a pair of walks. It was only the second time this season he failed to make it through the seventh inning.
Meanwhile, LSU could not figure out Arkansas junior right-hander Trevor Stephan, who finished with seven strikeouts against zero walks, and exited with an 8-2 lead.
LSU will send freshman Eric Walker to the mound at 1 p.m. Sunday looking for the series win. They’ll be coming off a win that only counts as one, but feels bigger than that.
“I don’t want to say (tonight was) a must win, but it’s a really, really good win. It lifts our spirits a lot,” said Robertson before unintentionally evoking a certain rally creature (LSU's Rally Possum that fueled its late-season run a year ago starting with an improbable win over Arkansas), “it would’ve been really easy for us to roll over and play dead.”