After the back-to-back-to-back home runs, the furious ninth-inning comeback and the possibility that LSU might atone for its errors on Sunday afternoon, Devin Fontenot walked off the field with his head low.
The sophomore pitcher had allowed four runs in the 10th inning, and LSU lost 19-15 at Alex Box Stadium. Ole Miss won a series in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1982.
LSU (30-18, 14-10 Southeastern Conference) dropped to fourth in the SEC Western Division. Ole Miss (32-17, 15-9) jumped LSU in the standings.
"That was a tough one," shortstop Josh Smith said. "We could have won it in the bottom of the ninth. We didn't. There's always more you could do."
LSU had buried itself early, and it trailed 15-9 entering the bottom of the ninth inning. The No. 13 Tigers faced closer Parker Caracci, who had allowed one earned run in conference games.
With two outs and two runners in scoring position, center fielder Zach Watson hit a slow ground ball. It scooted under Caracci’s hand. Watson ran through first base without a throw, and a run scored. It was 15-10.
LSU had rallied late this season, but never down by six runs with two outs in the ninth. Senior Antoine Duplantis walked to the plate. He committed his first error of the season earlier, allowing Ole Miss to score one of four unearned runs.
On the third pitch of the at-bat, Duplantis smashed a ball into the right-field stands for his eighth homer of the season. 15-13. Many of the fans had already filtered out, but those who remained buzzed.
The Tigers had needed to win this one, coach Paul Mainieri had said the night before. LSU and Ole Miss entered the game tied for third in the SEC Western Division. The winner took an edge on hosting an NCAA regional.
Two pitches after Duplantis’ home run, freshman Cade Beloso pelted another homer, his second of the game. Then Smith smashed a ball over the wall in right field.
In the second inning, Smith had botched a ground ball to start a double-play. Smith crouched over, extended his glove — and missed. It would have ended the inning.
He placed his hands on his hips and looked at his shoes as the ball trickled into left field. Ole Miss scored three unearned runs after the error.
Hours later, Smith admired his home run leaving the stadium. He turned toward the LSU dugout. Players spilled out, waving their arms as they yelled. LSU had gone back-to-back-to-back to tie the game. All six runs scored with two outs.
“You can go a lifetime,” Mainieri said, “and never see what you saw there in the ninth inning.”
As Ole Miss changed its pitcher, Mainieri hoped the Tigers could win the game before extra innings. But Gavin Dugas flied out. Ole Miss had led 10-1 in the fifth inning. The game was tied.
Fontenot jogged in from the bullpen. He avoided disaster in three of his last four outings. One week earlier, he almost blew a save.
The Rebels had been relentless, extending their lead every time LSU chipped at it. Fontenot walked the leadoff batter.
“My job is to come in and throw strikes,” Fontenot said. “If I'm going to walk the leadoff hitter, it doesn't give us a chance to be successful.”
Then Fontenot gave up a double and a two-run single. Ole Miss retook the lead. The Rebels added two more runs, and disappointment replaced the elation of the ninth inning.
LSU put two runners on base in its final at-bat, but Watson struck out swinging to end the game.
The Tigers had erased a seven-run deficit in the third inning and a nine-run hole in the fifth. They had tied the game, sent it to extra innings, recorded 22 hits and lost.
They left trying to digest the meaning of it all and how it could affect the rest of the year. Fontenot recognized the effort of his teammates, and he blamed himself.
“This was an important game, something that could help our season tremendously, and they weren't going to give up without a fight," Fontenot said. "They showed that, and I couldn't pull through at the end of the game."