The remnants of a celebratory shaving-cream pie still clinging to his face and uniform, a giddy Daniel Cabrera was wholly believable when he said this exact moment was why he came to LSU.
LSU trailed Tennessee by a run when he stepped to the plate with two men on in the bottom of the ninth inning. Both of them were there waiting for him at home plate, along with every other delirious soul in an LSU jersey, after his three-run thunderbolt to the right-field bleachers made LSU a 9-7 winner.
“It’s just hard to put into words what we just witnessed today,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
If not words, a picture sufficed: The SEC Network cameras caught the perfect moment when Cabrera crunched a center-cut fastball from right-hander Andrew Schultz — not necessarily the swing, but the aftermath.
Cabrera and a handful of his teammates were crammed around a cell phone in the dugout shortly after the game, not watching a replay of the game-winning and sweep-clinching shot, but of Cabrera’s reaction.
Immediately after contact, the perfect frame: Cabrera, Schmidt, catcher Benito Santiago and home-plate umpire David Wiley, shoulders all pointing in the same direction, eyes all trained upward.
Cabrera stood in the box and admired his blast. His eyes stayed trained on it as he casually took nine or 10 steps down the first-base line, holding his bat skyward as teammate Jake Slaughter held his fists in the air.
“I kind of wanted to soak up the moment,” Cabrera said.
Cabrera punctuated the homer with a mighty bat flip, and then his face went blank as he began his trot around the bases. He had just delivered an uppercut knockout blow to finish an insane six-run rally in the bottom of the ninth. He had stopped soaking the moment and had switched to autopilot.
“I kind of blacked out once I hit it,” Cabrera said.
It was a perfectly mad finish to an absolutely berserk ninth inning.
LSU looked destined to settle on Sunday, a team that failed to seize the opportunities handed to it for most of eight innings and entered the final frame trailing 7-3.
“A never-say-die attitude can take you a long way,” Mainieri said.
It was amazing how quickly the first 8½ innings began to feel inconsequential. It is best to relive the craziness blow-by-blow.
Tennessee sent right-hander Will Neely out to the mound to lock down his fourth complete game of the season. He had scattered nine hits in eight strong innings to that point, rarely letting LSU string anything together.
Neely might have gotten the job done had his defense not failed him. Instead, shortstop Andre Lipcius booted pinch-hitter Chris Reid’s ground ball to start the frame.
Tennessee then deployed a shift it used all weekend against LSU’s Beau Jordan, putting three infielders to the left of second base. Jordan burned it with a single to the right side.
The sharks were circling when a second error, this one on an ill-advised throw to second base on a Zach Watson ground ball, knocked Neely out of the game and brought a run home for LSU.
The Volunteers called on their hard-throwing right-hander Zach Linginfelter to face Antoine Duplantis. As they did that, LSU sent second baseman-slash-closer Austin Bain sprinting from the on-deck circle to the bullpen to warm up.
Linginfelter threw two pitches to Duplantis. The second one was a mid-90s heater that drilled Duplantis to load the bases for Bain, who represented the winning run.
“I usually don’t like getting hit,” Duplantis said. “… But today, it didn’t feel too bad.”
Linginfelter’s reputation preceded him. Bain returned from the bluppen and stepped into the batter’s box looking for a first-pitch fastball to punish. He got it. He did not waste his shot, drilling a double to right-center, bringing LSU within one and putting the go-ahead run in scoring position.
“I was geared up and ready for the fastball,” Bain said. “I put the best swing I could, as hard as I could."
Hunter Feduccia struck out for the first out, but that only set the stage for Cabrera to admire his handiwork.
Taylor Petersen, who threw one pitch to record the final out in the top of the ninth, earned his first win in an LSU uniform.