Mark Laird is teaching teams a hard lesson: You don’t want any part of me, so stop trying.
Laird hit his second game-winning single in the past two weeks, and LSU completed a wild late-inning comeback to beat Tennessee 8-7 on Friday night at Alex Box Stadium.
The Tigers (32-10-1, 11-7-1 Southeastern Conference) needed a run each in each of the seventh, eighth and ninth innings to overcome a 7-5 deficit and get a victory despite ace Aaron Nola’s worst outing in more than a year.
Laird’s ninth-inning single — with two outs and on a full count — skipped up the middle, hopping over the pitcher’s mound and rolling into short-center field to score Jared Foster from second base. Foster was pinch-running for Tyler Moore, who walked to start the ninth.
Tennessee reliever Andrew Lee intentionally walked Andrew Stevenson to get to Laird. He had seen that before.
LSU clinched a series win against Arkansas on April 12 on Laird’s ninth-inning, game-winning shot down the left-field line. That one came after the Razorbacks intentionally walked Sean McMullen.
“I saw them pitch out, and I was like, ‘Here we go again,’ ” Laird said. “It’s just part of me that makes me want to get a hit even more. When I saw him pitch around him, I was, like, getting in the zone.”
LSU moved a half-game back of Alabama in the race for the SEC West title. The Tide lost at South Carolina on Friday.
Laird, a sophomore right fielder, landed at first base as Foster was sliding into home plate. He leaped off the bag and roared as the 8,060 in Alex Box Stadium boomed.
“It was pretty much right down the middle — just had to barrel it up,” Laird said of Lee’s offering.
Nola tied his career high with five earned runs in his shortest and rockiest start of the season. He went 5.2 innings, allowing eight hits, walking four and committing two throwing errors. He entered the game having allowed seven runs in his 10 previous starts.
“Aaron’s been carrying the team on his back all year,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “It was nice the rest of the team could pick him up tonight.”
The Volunteers dinged up his replacement, Zac Person, before Kurt McCune and Joe Broussard settled things down.
LSU needed a few clutch hits by a pair of true freshmen in the seventh and eighth to enter the ninth tied.
Kramer Robertson’s fielder’s choice to shortstop drove in Fraley in the seventh to make it 7-6. Robertson barely beat out a double play on the grounder.
Jake Fraley had an RBI double to left-center to tie the game in the eighth.
The shot came on a full count and with two outs while a train whistled in the background on the tracks beyond right and center field.
“He gave me a fastball and left it up,” Fraley said of reliever Josh Peterson’s pitch. “I was able to shoot it into left-center.”
LSU had a whopping 17 hits and a season-high seven doubles, bailing out a struggling Nola to get an important series-opening win over the Volunteers (25-15, 7-12).
The Tigers overcame an early 2-0 hole with a five-run, six-hit fourth inning that included four doubles. Broussard (2-0) got the win. He retired the side in the ninth, striking out all three batters with a fastball that, at least once, hit 96 mph.
Nola’s woes started early. Nine Tennessee batters reached base in the first three innings, and the Volunteers had six hits against Nola.
The pitcher committed two errors on pickoff attempts to first base and walked three over the first four innings.
“Nola showed he’s human tonight. Just never got into a good rhythm,” Mainieri said.
The Vols got two runs in the first inning after three of their first four batters had hits. It was the first time since April 12, 2013, that Nola allowed two earned runs in one inning.
The Volunteers scored the go-ahead runs in the sixth inning to take a 6-5 lead. They were credited to Nola but came off Person.
He allowed a single before Nick Senzel smoked a three-run double to the left-center gap to make it 6-5.
The Vols made it 7-5 on an RBI double off Person in the seventh before LSU’s furious late-inning magic landed the Tigers a 12th win in 14 games.
Designated hitter Kade Scivicque didn’t start Friday’s game, marking the first time he began a game on the bench in more than a month. Scivicque, 4 for his past 32, had started 24 straight games. … LSU and Tennessee met for the first time since 2011, when the Tigers completed a three-game sweep. … Nola’s first-inning strikeout of Taylor Smart was his 303rd, tying him for ninth all-time in LSU’s career list. He tied Louis Coleman, who set the mark in 2009. … Alex Bregman committed his ninth error of the season in the first inning. Bregman returned to his usual place in the batting order, the No. 3 hole. He had batted fifth and sixth the last two games. … LSU tied the school record for sacrifice bunts in a game with four.