Six LSU baseball teams have won College World Series championships and nine others have gone to the series, but no Tigers team has done what this year’s squad did Saturday night.
No. 2 LSU defeated No. 9 Kentucky 9-1 at Alex Box Stadium to improve to 29-2, the best record any Tigers team has had after 31 games. The 1986 Tigers were 28-2, then lost their 31st game on the way to the school’s first CWS appearance.
This LSU team won its 11th in a row to improve to 10-1 in the Southeastern Conference, its best start in league play since 1997. The Tigers will try for their third consecutive conference series sweep when they meet the Wildcats (22-8, 6-5) at noon Sunday.
“We have more important things and bigger goals,” first baseman Mason Katz said, “but this is pretty cool when you sit back and think about us breaking the record with all the historic teams that have been through here. It’s been an awesome ride, but we treated this like it was just another game.”
Perhaps more significant than the record is the fact that LSU seems to be becoming a more complete team as the wins accumulate.
Alex Bregman extended his hitting streak to 19 games as he had two singles, a double and two RBIs. He is batting .518 (43-for-83) during his streak.
Katz extended his hit streak to 11 games with a two-run double, which increased his NCAA-leading RBI total to 53, matching the career high he set two years ago. He also had a single. He is batting .545 (24-for-44) during his streak.
Ty Ross had his second consecutive multi-hit game after not having any since Feb. 22, and JaCoby Jones, who like Ross entered the series hitting below .200, had two hits after getting three Friday.
“You can’t keep good players down, and both of those guys are good players,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “This weekend is a good time for them to start to hit against a quality team.”
Sean McMullen, getting an extended look as the leadoff hitter for the first time, had two doubles, an RBI, a walk and a run. The left-handed hitter is 3-for-6 and has been on base six times against lefties the past two games.
“I think Sean McMullen has done a tremendous job in the leadoff spot,” Mainieri said. “It doesn’t seem to matter whether they’re right-handed or left-handed to him. He’s been a real spark plug for us.”
The Tigers hitters provided more than enough offense for Ryan Eades to improve to 7-0 as he held Kentucky to four hits, one walk and one run in 8.2 innings. His ERA dropped to 1.30.
“It didn’t seem to me like he was throwing as hard as he usually does,” Mainieri said. “But he had some clean innings and really utilized his defense. We played really solid defense behind him, and he threw a lot of strikes.”
Eades allowed a one-out single in the first, then retired 14 consecutive batters. He gave up a leadoff single in the sixth, then retired 10 straight before giving up his only walk, two singles and a sacrifice fly to Max Kuhn in the ninth.
“I wanted the shutout pretty bad,” Eades said. “Coach told me after the seventh inning, ‘If you have a quick inning in the eighth, I’ll let you go for the shutout in the ninth.’ I had a quick inning, and I came in after the eighth inning and I just told him, ‘I’m good. I want to go out there and finish it.’ ”
He fell just short. His scoreless innings streak over his past three starts ended at 19 innings; Hunter Devall relieved and got the final out.
“I wanted to give (Eades) a chance to finish because his pitch count was around 91 entering the ninth inning, but unfortunately he couldn’t finish the shutout,” Mainieri said. “But it’s not that big a deal because he pitched great.”
Ross, who started two rallies with singles in an 11-1 victory Friday, singled home Christian Ibarra, who had doubled, to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the second.
The lead grew to 5-0 in the third. McMullen led off with a liner to right that Kyle Barrett dived for and scooped with his glove, but the umpires ruled he didn’t catch it and McMullen slid into second with a double.
One out later, Bregman singled McMullen home, and Raph Rhymes followed with a single. Katz doubled home both runners, went to third on the throw home and scored on Ibarra’s grounder.
Ross led off the third with a single, went to second on Alex Edward’s sacrifice and scored on another double by McMullen. Mark Laird’s single sent McMullen to third and he scored on Bregman’s sacrifice fly to make it 7-0.
LSU increased the lead to 9-0 in the fifth when Barrett misplayed Edward’s fly ball into a two-run triple.
Wildcats starter Jerad Grundy (5-3) lasted six innings, allowing career-highs of 15 hits and nine runs.
“You can’t get a hit every time in this game,” Mainieri said. “But when one guy can’t do it, it seems like there’s another guy waiting to rise up and get the job done for us, which I think is a sign of a good, deep team.”