Left fielder Gavin Dugas reached the warning track and watched the ball sail past him. As the go-ahead runs hooked over the wall, pitcher Garrett Edwards asked for another baseball. Coach Paul Mainieri squeezed his forehead and sighed.
This was LSU’s best chance to beat No. 1 Vanderbilt, and with the score tied in the seventh inning, the Commodores hit a two-run homer off Edwards, providing the difference in LSU’s 5-4 loss inside Alex Box Stadium.
The loss Saturday afternoon completed Vanderbilt’s sweep of LSU, which lost its sixth straight Southeastern Conference game. LSU (17-11, 1-8 SEC) was swept in consecutive conference series for the first time since 2010. The Tigers last started 1-8 in the SEC in 1969.
Unlike the first two games of the weekend series, LSU had a chance to beat Vanderbilt (24-3, 8-1). But with the score tied 3-3, Edwards left a changeup too high in the strike zone, and Vanderbilt left fielder Jack Bulger launched his third home run of the year.
LSU lost all three games it played against No. 1 Vanderbilt, the first two in blowout fashion, 13-1 and 11-2, and the finale in a heartbreaking 5-4 ending.
“That’s a team that capitalizes on mistakes very well.” redshirt junior pitcher AJ Labas said.
The Tigers almost tied the game in the ninth, loading the bases with one out against closer Luke Murphy, who entered with a 0.00 ERA. One of LSU’s best power hitters, Dugas, approached the plate. Another one, sophomore third baseman Cade Doughty, waited in the on-deck circle.
Dugas hit a sacrifice fly, cutting the score to 5-4 and moving the tying run to third base. Doughty popped up. He spiked his bat against the artificial turf near home plate.
“I was sitting there expecting a bomb,” freshman first baseman Tre’ Morgan said, “and it just didn’t happen today.”
Junior Jaden Hill left his start against Vanderbilt in the second inning. The Tigers lost 11-2.
The way the ninth inning ended exemplified one of LSU’s problems Saturday. The Tigers went 1 for 14 with runners on base. They stranded 10 total.
“I fully expected us to come back in that inning,” Dugas said. “I think we had a lot of momentum on our side loading the bases. We had that opportunity in plenty of innings to make our mark, and we weren't able to capitalize.”
While LSU didn’t get the hit it needed to avoid the sweep, Labas provided a quality start. He navigated around nine hits, preventing Vanderbilt from padding a 3-1 lead after the Commodores scored three runs in the third inning.
“Typical AJ,” Mainieri said. “He’s not an overpowering guy. He just knows how to pitch really well.”
Now 1-6 within the league, LSU is tied with Auburn for last in the SEC West.
LSU tied the game in the bottom of the fourth as freshman designated hitter Brody Drost knocked an RBI single and Morgan was hit with the bases loaded. The Tigers could’ve added more runs, but freshman center fielder Will Safford popped up for the third out, leaving the bases loaded.
Labas lasted until the sixth inning. With one out and a runner on first, Mainieri replaced him with Edwards, a freshman right-hander. Labas received a standing ovation from the crowd as he walked off the field. He had thrown 104 pitches and recorded seven strikeouts. An inning later, Edwards made one mistake.
Still, LSU had a chance. With three outs left, the players turned their hats backward, trying to create some positive mojo. Every pitcher came in from the bullpen. The Tigers lined along the dugout railing and clapped. Mainieri envisioned a game-winning hit. It never came. The winning run was left on base.
“We know we’re one little, small thing away from becoming a good team that wins that game,” Labas said. “Hopefully it will click.”