(Release and photo courtesy of Tennessee Sports Information)
BATON ROUGE, La. – Tennessee baseball rallied from a 4-2 deficit to tie the game in the top of the eighth, but No. 6 LSU answered with a five-run bottom half to clinch the hard-fought series with a 9-4 win on Sunday afternoon at Alex Box Stadium.
The Tigers (33-11-1, 12-8-1) plated five runs (three unearned) on just two hits in the eighth. The Vols (26-16, 8-13) handed LSU three free passes in the inning – two walks and a hit by pitch – committed a fielding error and threw two wild pitches to spark the five-run rally. The five-run margin was the largest of the entire series.
Tennessee tried to answer in the ninth with back to back two-out singles by Christin Stewart and Nick Senzel, but the rally fell short as UT couldn’t plate a run. The Vols totaled nine hits on the game for a total of 31 in the series. The 31 knocks is the most against LSU in a three-game series this season. Vanderbilt had 28 hits against the Tigers in Nashville from March 14-16.
“It was a nightmare,” head coach Dave Serrano said on the LSU eighth inning. “It’s hard for me to say because we ended up losing two out of three, but I can’t blame the effort of these guys. No matter what the situation is they keep fighting. Even in the ninth inning – the air was let out of the balloon in the eighth when they drop a five on us – and we come out and scrap with two outs to extend the game.
“Today was about the bullpen just not being able to get it stopped. We have to fix those issues. I felt it was the details. The effort is there, but some of the details – misplayed ball in left field that really gets it going for them early in the game, us not getting the ball on the ground on a bunt and the pitchers not being able to throw strikes late. It just was not Division I baseball for me. Those are the details we need to fix, but the effort is there. Anyone that has watched this team realizes it never quits no matter what is going on. How can I be disappointed in that; that’s what we ask them to do.”
Stewart and Senzel both had multi-hit games for the Vols, their 19th and 15th of the season, respectively.
After two quick outs in the first, Stewart extended his hitting streak to a team-best eight games with a loop single into right field. Senzel continued the two-out rally with his ninth double of the season, putting two runners in scoring position with two down. Vincent Jackson drew a walk to load the bases – the first by LSU starter Alden Cartwright in four straight appearances. However, Cartwright was able to draw a long fly ball to left field by Taylor Smart for the final out, leaving three Vols on the basepaths.
Freshman Nathaniel Maggio started the second with his third hit of the series, lining a single up the middle. Making his second start of the weekend behind the plate, Tyler Schultz dropped down his third sac bunt of the series to move Maggio into scoring position and he moved to third on a passed ball. Derek Lance drew a walk to put runners on the corners with one out – marking a season high for walks (2) by Cartwright. Will Maddox put the Vols on the board first for the third straight day with a sac fly to left center, bringing home Maggio from third. Lance also tagged up on the play from first to move into scoring position, but an A.J. Simcox groundout ended the threat with the Vols up, 1-0.
LSU used a leadoff double by cleanup hitter Sean McMullen – the Tigers’ ninth double of the series – to match Tennessee in the second inning. McMullen advanced to third on a groundout and came home on a sac fly to left field by Connor Hale to tie the game at 1-1.
The teams traded 1-2-3 half frames in the third, as the Tigers brought on left-hander Hunter Devall. Vols’ starter Nick Williams matched Devall by sitting LSU down on just five pitches. Williams kept UT in it, allowing six hits and four runs while walking one and striking one out over 5 1/3 innings.
Tennessee got the leadoff man on for the second time in the game as Smart drew a four-pitch walk off Devall. After moving to second on a groundout by Schultz, Smart was on the move on a 1-1 pitch to Lance, who looped a single into center to bring home his sixth run of the series and give UT a 2-1 lead.
With the big bats in its order up for the second time, LSU took its first lead of the game by scoring two runs on three hits in the bottom of the fourth inning to go up 3-2. Shortstop Alex Bregman led off with a single through the left side and McMullen got some help from the wind on a double in the left field gap to put two in scoring position. Bregman came home on a groundout by Jake Fraley and the go-ahead run was plated on an infield single by Hale.
Mark Laird sent a one-out double to the left field corner to get things going for LSU in the fifth. He moved to third on a groundout by Bregman and came home on a two-out wild pitch by Williams to double the Tigers’ lead at 4-2.
Maddox started the seventh inning off promising for the Vols with a bunt single past the LSU pitcher, Maddox’s 10th bunt single of the season. However, Simcox popped his bunt attempt up and Stewart grounded into the inning-ending 3-6-3 double play. Maddox’s bunt single was the Vols’ first hit since Lance’s RBI single in the fourth.
Senzel opened the eighth frame with a double down the third baseline and advanced to third as LSU’s Fraley kicked it around in left. An infield single by Jackson cut the Tigers’ lead to 4-3 and he was moved over on a sac bunt by Smart. Maggio reached on a throwing error by third baseman Christian Ibarra, putting runners on the corners with one down. Schultz then tied the game with a sac fly to center on a 1-2 count, driving in his first run of the series to level the game at 4-4.
Drake Owenby struggled to find the zone to start the eighth, walking the opening batter on four pitches. After a failed attempt to move the runner over by pinch hitter Jared Foster, Hale continued his clutch weekend for the Tigers with a double into the left field corner. The two-bagger brought home Fraley to give LSU a 5-4 lead.
The Tigers went on to add four more runs in the eighth, including one on an error and one on a wild pitch by Trevor Bettencourt to take the 9-4 lead into the ninth inning, which they held onto.
LSU reliever Kurt McCune (2-1) earned the win, while Owenby (2-2) picked up the loss.
Tennessee returns to action on Tuesday, April 29, looking for the season sweep of Middle Tennessee. The Vols host the Blue Raiders at Lindsey Nelson Stadium at 6 p.m. ET. UT took the first meeting in Murfreesboro by a margin of 2-0. The Vols continue SEC play on Thursday, May 1 in the SEC Game of the Week on ESPNU at home against Kentucky at 7:30 p.m. ET.