STARKVILLE, Miss. — Conner Hale landed at second base and smashed his right fist into the air.
He was the latest — and last — hero in this marathon.
Hale crushed a game-winning two-run double to right field, and LSU pulled off a trifecta of game-saving plays to beat Mississippi State 5-3 in a 14-inning affair at Dudy Noble Field on Thursday night.
Hale’s shot brought home Alex Bregman and Jake Fraley, who both walked, in the top of the 14th inning, and Jesse Stallings picked up a 12th save in closing out the reeling Bulldogs in the bottom of the inning, eliciting field-storming from the LSU dugout.
After all, the Tigers (39-7, 15-6 Southeastern Conference) had reason to celebrate a series opener that many would say they should have lost.
“What a game,” said coach Paul Maineri, who picked up his 400th at LSU. “My goodness.”
LSU needed — get this — three-game saving plays. State’s winning runner tripped rounding third base in the bottom of the ninth, and Bregman saved what would have been a game-winning single through the left side later in that inning.
And in the 11th? The Tigers got a spectacular putout at the plate of State’s game-winning run. Jake Fraley, on a single to left field, threw to catcher Kade Scivicque with plenty of time to spare.
“It was unbelievable,” Hale said. “Somebody asked me if I’ve ever been involved in a game where there were three game-saving plays, where the game could have literally ended on the play,” Mainieri said. “I can’t recall that I have.”
In fact, Mississippi State had the winning run at either second or third base in the ninth, 10th, 11th innings and 13th innings. In State’s last chance, reliever Jake Godfrey punched out Brent Rooker to end the 13th and strand him at third.
The Bulldogs (23-23, 7-15), losers of 11 of their last 13, intentionally walked Bregman in the 14th to get to Hale. He slammed a 2-2 high hanging curveball off State’s top reliever, Trevor Fitts.
A similar inning played out in the 10th - Fraley reached to lead it off, Mark Laird bunted him over and Bregman was walked. Hale couldn’t come through against the breaking ball-throwing Fitts.
He did it three innings later.
“He was getting me with all of his off speed,” Hale said. “Once they walked him the second time, I had a gut feeling. After I struck out (in the 10th), I was able to pick up on his breaking ball.”
Fitts threw 4.1 innings and 84 pitches and is likely burned for the weekend.
“That’s kind of an added bonus for us,” said Mainieri, who has all of his relievers still available for the series.
The Tigers blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth, leading to their sixth extra-inning game in SEC play. They overcame a 2-0 deficit, scoring two in the fourth off State starter Lucas Laster and the go-ahead in the fifth for a 3-2 lead before the ninth.
The Tigers blew the win in the bottom of that inning with starter Jared Poché on the mound trying for a complete game. It was the sixth time LSU had entered the ninth with the lead and blown it in the last six weeks.
Mississippi State had three straight hits on Poché in the ninth – the last one a game-tying double from Reid Humphreys.
Zac Person threw 2.2 innings of one-hit ball, stranding a host of runners from the 10th to the 13th, and Godfrey, Stallings and Parker Bugg all had solid stints.
“I thought our bullpen was tremendous in extra innings,” Mainieri said.
The extra-inning fireworks overshadowed an ace-worthy first eight innings from Poché. He allowed five base runners entering the ninth and had retired 22 of his last 24 batters in his sixth straight impressive start.
The sophomore lefty has now allowed just nine earned runs in his last half-dozen starts – all of them coming after what he calls the worst outing of his baseball career at Arkansas on March 19. He allowed five runs and 10 hits in a 3.2-inning start in a loss to the Hogs.
Poché gave up just four hits, one earned run, walked one and struck out three through the first eight innings of the game – doing it all on just 78 pitches.
Then came the ninth.
Poché led off the inning with a strike out before Luke Reynolds and Wes Rea had singles, setting up Humphreys’ bashing double that hit halfway up Dudy Noble’s 30-foot center field wall.
Matt Spruill, a pinch runner for Rea, tripped between third and home on that double. Humphreys scored to tie the game at 3, and Spruill would have likely been safe easily on the deep shot to center. Stevenson relayed to Bregman who threw to Scivicque, standing between home and third. He tossed to Hale at third for the out.
“If we don’t have a guy trip at third base, we win,” State coach John Cohen said. “You can’t say anymore than that.”
Bugg and Person combined to strike out two of the final three to end the 10th with the winning run at second before that game-saving putout at the plate in the 11th.
Fraley hummed John Holland’s single to short left field back to the plate – a one-hopper that came directly to an awaiting Scivicque. He tagged Jacob Robson for the easy out.
“Pretty fast runner at second,” Fraley said. “I got a good hop into the glove, and, the thank the Lord, it ended up being a great bounce to Scivicque. It’s a blessing.”
LSU recovered from an early 2-0 deficit tying the game during a hellish fourth inning for Laster. Laster walked one, hit another and allowed two singles. Reynolds, in just his 14th start of the season, booted a grounder to led Hale read to lead off the frame.
Danny Zardon, starting his second straight game after a six-week absence from the lineup, drove in the tying run in that fourth inning after Hale scored on a wild pitch.
“We found a way to win tonight,” Bregman said.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.