AUBURN, Ala. — Kyle Bouman had a restless night of sleep.
LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri informed him Friday night that he would be starting in a must-win game against Auburn the next day. He awoke nearly every hour, likely rolling over and glancing at the clock.
“Tough night,” the lefthander said.
Tough day? Nah.
Bouman had his best SEC start, going a season-long five innings, and Kade Scivicque smashed through a nasty hitting slump to lead the Tigers to an 8-1 win over Auburn on Saturday afternoon in a victory key to LSU’s postseason positioning.
The win secured LSU a day off in what will be an all-important Southeastern Conference tournament for a squad on the bubble of receiving a host bid for an NCAA regional.
“It’s big,” center fielder Andrew Stevenson said. “If we didn’t get the bye, we could go one-and-out in the SEC tournament. We’re going to try to have a fun run like last year.”
The reigning tournament champions, LSU (40-14-1, 17-11-1) finished the season third in the SEC, grabbing the No. 3 seed in next week’s 12-team tournament in Hoover, Alabama. The top four seeds bypass the single-elimination portion of the event Tuesday.
The Tigers will meet No. 6 seed Vanderbilt or No. 11 seed Tennessee at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Those teams play at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in a win-or-go-home game.
Saturday’s duel wasn’t an elimination game, but a loss would have forced LSU into playing that first day in Hoover and likely would have dashed the Tigers’ hopes of hosting an NCAA regional.
That’s why Bouman couldn’t sleep.
“Woke up about five or six times,” he said, “especially knowing this was a big game.”
Bouman (4-2) got his first SEC win as a starter and worked out of some pressure-packed jams. He allowed four hits and one run, leading LSU to its first SEC series road sweep since March 2013.
The Tigers offense continued a scintillating week at the plate, rolling up 11 hits and scoring eight or more runs for the fourth straight game. They’ve had 61 hits in the past four games and have won those games by a combined 56-4 score.
An unlikely character led the hit parade Saturday as LSU exploded for a five-run seventh inning to blow open a 3-1 lead. Scivicque had three hits — a home run, single and double — and drove in a pair of runs. He scored twice, too.
He entered the Auburn series 3 for his past 37 at-bats in SEC games, a stretch that dated to April 6. The Maurepas native had slipped from his spot as LSU’s cleanup hitter and then dropped out of the lineup lately during the struggles.
“I just kept swinging,” he said.
He finished the series 4-for-6 with four RBIs, and LSU closed its most dominant SEC road series in Mainieri’s eight years. The Tigers beat Auburn by a combined 25 runs.
“Everybody is asking me about the pressure of coaching and playing at LSU. These kids knew the pressure was on them,” Mainieri said. “The pressure was there, and these kids just found the zone. They played loose; they played aggressive and with energy and enthusiasm.”
LSU got gems from every facet of the game in three blowouts at Samford Stadium. It was no different Saturday.
Shortstop Alex Bregman made a pair of similar dazzling defensive plays to save a run each time, and Bouman fought through some tough times to re-establish himself as the team’s No. 3 starter.
Mainieri has been waiting for someone to take on the role. The team has used four different pitchers in Game 3s.
Bouman began the season as the guy, got hurt and struggled upon his return. He hadn’t started a game in nearly a month before Saturday.
“Of all of the good things that happened today, that was the most important thing. In order to advance beyond the regional, you have to be able to win three games in a weekend,” Mainieri said. “If we’re hosting (a regional) and we get to play a 4 seed, who can pitch that opening game of the weekend? If we are a 2 seed and have to go with (Jared) Poché or (Aaron) Nola in Game 1, who can win a championship game for you?
“I think Kyle Bouman emerged today.”
It didn’t come without some woes.
Anfernee Grier took Bouman’s third pitch over the left-center field wall for a solo home run, and he had to dig himself out of some jams.
Bregman committed an untimely error in the third inning, throwing wide of second base with a double-play ball.
It only set up a stellar escape from Bouman. With men on the corners and one out, he got back-to-back strikeouts — his only to Ks of the day — to end the inning. He started 3-0 on both batters.
Auburn was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. A big reason was Bouman, a guy whose up-and-down season just might have a happy ending.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” he said, “I can say that.”