Jake Fraley waited for that pie in the face. It never came.
What did: a cup-of-water shower on a 90-degree day.
That’s a cool ending.
Fraley’s game-winning single in the 10th inning sent LSU to a scintillating 6-5 win over Missouri on Sunday afternoon at Alex Box Stadium, giving the top-ranked Tigers a sweep and a more secure spot atop the Southeastern Conference standings.
LSU (43-8, 19-7) leads Vanderbilt by a game and a half in the overall standings, and the Tigers have a two-game lead over Texas A&M in the SEC West heading into the final regular-season series — three games at South Carolina starting Thursday.
They control their own destiny, needing two wins at Carolina to lock up the SEC regular-season title — no matter what the Commodores and Aggies do. One win over the Gamecocks would secure the SEC West crown.
“It’s going to be an exciting weekend,” a smiling coach Paul Mainieri said.
It was an exciting Sunday at the Box.
LSU overcame a 3-0 first-inning deficit and a fourth blown save in the past nine weeks from reliever Jesse Stallings. The Tigers also had to get a bases-loaded double play from third baseman Conner Hale to end the top of the 10th with authority on a memorable Senior Day.
In their last regular-season home games, Hale and catcher Kade Scivicque each had three hits and drove in a combined three runs. In three innings, the former junior-college players who became star seniors had back-to-back hits — none bigger than in the bottom of the 10th.
Hale smashed one up the middle to begin the inning, and Scivicque scorched one into the right-center field gap to set up Fraley.
The sophomore sent MU closer Breckin Williams’ fastball into short center field. A hand-waving Hale came running home from third base, and an estimated 6,000 roared. Players stormed around Fraley, between first and second base, dousing him with water to conclude a hot, humid day.
During postgame interviews, he waited for the walk-off ritual to unfold: A teammate pies the game-winner in the face.
“Surprised I haven’t gotten it yet,” he said.
The 2-0 shot over the shortstop’s head gave Fraley his first game-winning hit since he was 12 years old. He hit the winning home run during the Cal Ripken World Series, an event he calls “a notch down from little league.”
“Not as big,” he said, smiling, “but I think it’s huge.”
Like Sunday, that homer eight years ago came on a fastball and with men at second and third. Fraley expected the fastball from Williams. He had thrown two low sliders to begin the at-bat.
“I was able to get my hands inside the ball quick enough to be able to shoot it out there,” said Fraley, who had three hits in his previous 21 at-bats heading into the 10th.
His game-winner overshadowed a host of missteps from an LSU team that most feel already has secured a top-eight NCAA national seed. There are problems despite this squad’s lofty ranking, and they all showed up Sunday: the lack of a No. 3 starter, Stallings’ tumble as the go-to closer and the absence of Jared Foster at second base.
With the Tigers leading 5-4, Stallings blew the save with one out in the ninth, allowing an RBI double. Danny Zardon, playing his third straight day at second base for the academically ineligible Foster, made an error earlier in the ninth to allow the eventual tying runner to reach and move to second base.
Kyle Bouman, in his first SEC start of the season, allowed a three-run homer in the first inning and recorded just one out — more Game 3 pitching woes for a team that will remain the consensus No. 1 squad for a fourth straight week.
Austin Bain might be the solution in the No. 3 role — again. He pitched a gem in 5.1 innings of relief, striking out seven and allowing just two base runners in 18 faced. It was a sparkling performance that could thrust him back into the No. 3 role.
His relief outing Sunday began one out into the game. He started it by striking out six consecutive batters, helping LSU move to 8-0 all-time against Missouri (28-24, 14-13).
“I feel like the best thing for me was being able to adjust at-bats,” Bain said. “When I threw a pitch, I knew what I did wrong today and I could adjust. Just locating my fastball.”
Parker Bugg and Zac Person pitched 2.2 innings without allowing an earned run, and Chris Chinea hit his ninth home run of the season — and second in two games — to complete LSU’s comeback for a 5-4 lead.
It only set up more heady plays from Hale, a Florida native whose family traveled in for Senior Day. They watched him hit and field in the clutch. He had RBI singles in the fourth and fifth before his leadoff single in the 10th.
All three hits came with two strikes. That’s no coincidence. Hale has started choking up on the bat when he gets to two strikes.
“I know we’ve had some hard times getting runners in at second and third with less than two outs,” he said. “I’m starting to change something little where we’re able to do that. It’s working out well.”
He began a 5-6-3 double play in the eighth and had that thunderous double play to end the top of the 10th. Missouri put the first two on base against Stallings in the 10th before Russell Reynolds intentionally walked Josh Lester to load the bases with one out before Trey Harris chopped one to Hale. He made the catch, raced to third, stepped on the bag and hummed the throw across the diamond.
“The second I saw the ball on the ground, I knew he was going to make that play,” Reynolds said. “That’s routine for him.”
“Once I tagged third and threw it,” Hale said, “I saw it on a good line (and) I was pumped up, ready to go win the game.”
He helped do that a few minutes later, sending LSU’s seniors out of Alex Box with a bang. Of course, they’ll be back — Hale included — for at least a few more home games.
Mainieri likes the sound of that.
“He’s one of the most clutch players,” the coach said, “I’ve ever coached.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.