STARKVILLE, Miss. — A night after its defense made a pair of snazzy, game-saving plays, the Tigers offense accomplished a rare feat of its own.
Ever seen six straight hits before — in a Southeastern Conference game ... with two outs?
LSU strung together those half-dozen hits in a four-run fourth inning, finished the game with 17 hits and roared to an 11-4 win over Mississippi State on Friday night, securing an improbable ninth straight series in this age-old rivalry duel.
Seven LSU hitters had at least two hits, and reliever Hunter Newman picked up his fourth save in his fourth straight appearance. Meanwhile, the Tigers (40-7, 16-6 SEC) maintained their tie with Vanderbilt atop the overall league standings with a ninth SEC road win in 10 tries this year.
They go for the sweep at 3 p.m. Saturday — but they clinched an incredible thing on a cool Friday night at Dudy Noble Field: They’ve won nine series in a row against the Bulldogs (23-24, 7-16).
“It’s something that awakens (something) inside people,” LSU outfielder Mark Laird said of the series. “They always play their best against us. It brings the best baseball out in each of us.”
Mississippi State hasn’t won a series over LSU since 2006, and Tigers coach Paul Mainieri continued his undefeated series record against LSU’s bitter baseball rival. He’s 23-10 against State, and his team whacked the Dogs a night after surviving a 14-inning marathon Thursday night.
LSU needed a pair of game-saving plays from its defense in that game. Alex Bregman stopped a ground ball on what would have been a game-winning single in the ninth, and Jake Fraley, from left field, threw out State’s potential winning run in the 11th.
But back to this one Friday. The consensus No. 1-ranked squad in the nation continued to clinch its fist around a top eight national seed with this scintillating run. LSU has lost just two games in the last 19, and the Tigers hit the 40-win mark in their 47th game — the second-quickest route to the big 4-0 in the last 15 years.
The 2013 team did it in 46 games. This is starting to feel awfully familiar, Laird said.
“It feels a lot like it,” he said. “I feel like we’re just as close, maybe even a closer group of guys.”
In front of a half-full Dudy Noble Field, Laird and crew won a seventh SEC series this season in the first eight. The last three LSU teams to do that — 2004, 2009, 2013 — advanced to the College World Series.
That’s a long way off, of course, and the Tigers’ freshman fireballer still didn’t look 100 percent Friday.
Alex Lange threw a six-hit six innings, allowing four runs and striking out just two to two walks. Since suffering some elbow tightness a month ago, Lange has struggled to regain the all-star form of his first seven weeks. The strikeout-to-walk numbers tell the tale.
Lange began this season by compiling 58 strikeouts to 15 walks in his first seven starts before that elbow issue surfaced at Alabama. He’s thrown 16 strikeouts and walked 15 in his last four nods.
Lange walked his first batter of the game Friday, and State had three straight hits on him in the fourth during the Bulldogs’ three-run inning, but fought through to move to 8-0 on the season.
“He comes out and starts out his career and he’s so domianat,” Mainieri said. “You start out perfect and then you’re supposed to improve from there. Everybody expects him to be Cy Young every time he pitches.”
Afterward, Lange said his arm feels good and that his command isn’t “where it needs to be,” but that’s not a health thing, he said.
“I’m healthy, getting back into the groove of things,” he said.
Newman, evolving into LSU’s top reliever, got his third three-inning save in the last four appearances. He allowed two hits, no runs and worked around a hit batter and two walks.
Newman, void of his best stuff, still got strikeouts in the seventh and eighth innings, stranding a combined three runners.
“Just had to grind through it,” said Newman, who threw mostly fastballs with his nasty curveball “not sharp,” in his words.
The Tigers offense came alive early, building a 6-1 lead, and finished late with a four-run ninth. They chased State starter Preston Brown after just the 2.2 innings with a two-run third before that blistering fourth.
Laird, Bregman, Conner Hale, Kade Scivicque, Andrew Stevenson and Chris Chinea each had a hit — all in a row and all with two outs — in the fourth. Five of the six were singles.
“Had (six) consecutive two-out hits, several with runners in scoring position,” Mainieri said. “I think we looked like a really good offensive team at that point.”
Bregman had two doubles in the game — one during that six-hit stretch — and extended a pair of streaks: He’s reached base in 44 consecutive games and has hits in his last 12.
The Tigers defense had its first error-free performance in 10 games, but it came at a cost.
Speedy center fielder Andrew Stevenson “tweaked” his hamstring while running the bases and was removed from the game to start the fifth inning.
Mainieri said the injury doesn’t look to be serious, and he’s listed as “day to day.” Laird replaced him in center field, and Beau Jordan took over in right.
Jordan was the only LSU player who didn’t have a hit on a night when the offense lit up Dudy Noble for a fifth straight series win here in Starkville.
“To win series against any team in this league, is special,” Mainieri said, “but Mississippi State and LSU have had probably the most historic rivalry in college baseball so any time you win a series over these guys it’s a tremendous accomplishment.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.