FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. —This was nothing new for Kade Scivicque.
With the bases loaded and one out, LSU’s catcher stepped in front of home plate and flashed a signal to the corner infielders: Throw it to me if you get a hard grounder.
He always expects to get that throw from third base and whip the ball to first for a double play. But he’s never gotten one.
In fact, LSU hadn’t turned such a double play — third-catcher-first — in Paul Mainieri’s nine years as coach.
That skid’s over now, and — holy smokes! — did the Tigers end it in style.
“Wow,” Mainieri said afterward.
LSU turned that double play with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, escaped another scary situation in the eighth and held on to beat Arkansas 7-4 on Saturday afternoon at Baum Stadium, claiming the series win to accomplish a rare feat.
The Tigers won a three-game Southeastern Conference series after losing the opening game for just the second time in five years, and they grabbed a 10th series win over the Razorbacks in the last 11 tries.
Mainieri’s team followed a 5-1 loss in Thursday’s opener with a pounding 16-3 victory on Friday night and capped this road trip with a scintillating rubber match win Saturday.
This one had it all: solid starting pitching, pressure-packed relief, home-run hitting, clutch singles, roaring doubles and, for LSU, a handful of sparking defensive gems highlighted by — well, of course — that 5-2-3 double play.
“That was huge,” shortstop Alex Bregman said. “Never gone catcher to first base since (coach has) been here. That fired us up. Got us out of a big inning.”
Ranked No. 1 in the nation in one poll and No. 3 or better in five others, LSU (21-3, 4-2 SEC) overcame a host of shaky outings from relievers, nearly blowing a 5-1 lead, and the Razorbacks (11-11, 1-5) stranded 14 runners in front of Baum’s biggest crowd of the season at 6,895.
“Amazing,” Mainieri called the game.
Freshman starting pitcher Jake Godfrey allowed a whopping nine base runners in his five innings but surrendered just one run, and the Tigers had 15 hits. Third baseman Conner Hale provided insurance runs in the top of the ninth with a two-run homer, and Jesse Stallings recorded his 10th save, bailing out a bullpen that began to crumble.
Zac Person allowed two runs and three hits in the seventh inning, and Arkansas then loaded the bases with one out before the Tigers turned that DP. LSU led 5-3 when Conner Hale fired Carson Shaddy’s grounder to Scivicque at home, and Scivicque hummed it to first in time to end the inning.
Mainieri popped from the dugout as first base umpire Darin Stiers made his emphatic call on a bang-bang play. Red-faced, the coach thrust a couple of haymakers into the air as LSU’s dugout celebrated around him.
“We practice that play. You very rarely see it,” Scivicque said. “As soon as I caught it, I looked up and I saw the runner was halfway down the line. Took a shot at it. Gave our team a big boost.”
Said Arkansas coach Dave van Horn: “That was tough.”
Scivicque sat in the dugout after the game, hurriedly untying his shoes as the team jetted from Baum Stadium to catch a 7 p.m. charter flight. He shuffled things in and out of a bag while describing a play that he’ll probably never forget.
Those close to the program might never forget it either. Staff members say it was, indeed, the first catcher-to-first double play ball the Tigers have had since Mainieri took over in 2007.
Scivicque, from the tiny town of Maurepas, did it catching three games in three days — the first time he’s done that this year. He also had two hits to extend his hitting streak to seven games.
“You’ve got to put a lot of focus to it,” he said. “Before the pitch, I let the corner infielders know that if the ball is hit hard to them, you come to me. I was expecting it. As soon as it hit the ground, I come up to the plate to receive it. Conner gave me a perfect feed to give it back to Chinea.”
Boom, bang. LSU was out of the inning.
“Amazingly clutch,” Mainieri said afterward, a relieved look crawling across his face.
After all, LSU had accomplished something special – winning the last two games of a three-game league set after losing Game 1. The Tigers have done that just once (Texas A&M, 2013) since 2010. They had dropped the opening game of 10 series during that span.
“There’s always a point in the year where you’re team just becomes a team,” Mainieri said. “I feel like that (during) these last two games.”
His defense — a point of pride for the coach — stole the show.
Chinea made a handful of picks at first base and had an unassisted play on a hard hit with two runners on base in the second. Bregman — he’s committed one error in 24 starts — made two inning-ending forceout plays with runners on base.
He ended the game by slinging a grounder hit to the far side of second base to first, leaving two more stranded with a three-run lead.
Foster — owner of a solo homer in this one — made the toughest play since taking over at second base two weeks ago, and left fielder Jake Fraley made a hard charging, half-dive of a line drive for the second out in a pressure-packed eighth inning.
“Even though our relief pitching struggled,” Mainieri said, “I think our defense bailed them out there.”
In the eighth, the coach had to bring on closer Jesse Stallings after Alden Cartwright and Collin Strall allowed four base runners — two walks, a hit batter and single. He retired the next two, getting that grab from Fraley in left.
Mark Laird made a running catch in foul territory in the ninth, too, in addition to his two-hit day, and the Tigers got a four-hit outburst from Catholic High graduate Chris Sciambra, who entered the weekend as a reserve.
The bats were popping again. LSU had 43 hits in the three games, the most in a three-game set this season.
Arkansas starter Trey Killian, the Hogs’ best hurler, lasted six innings, giving up nine hits but just three runs. LSU took Arkansas’ top reliever, Zach Jackson, for two runs and three hits.
“We knew we had to bounce back from the tough loss the first night,” Foster said. “We had two freshmen coming out and starting for us (Alex Lange and Godfrey). We had confidence in them, came out picked up the bats and made the plays for them.”
One in specific: 5-2-3.
“Championship teams win these kind of games,” Bregman said. “This is just another example of it.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.