By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Antoine Duplantis’ fifth hit of the afternoon finally did the trick.
The sophomore left fielder came through with a walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th inning to give LSU a dramatic 7-6 victory over South Carolina in a weird, back-and-forth rubber match at Alex Box Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
It was a wacky game that had a little bit everything. LSU pounded out 17 hits, many of which bloops and bleeders, only to see a handful of hard-hit balls aimed directly into Gamecock gloves. There was great defense, atrocious defense, winning runs thrown out at the plate, clutch hits and implausible gaffes. There were three lead changes and two ties.
The Tigers left 13 men on base and whiffed on several chances to tie or win the game with a simple fly ball but, with the game hanging in the balance, came back twice against a closer who throws upwards of 100 mph.
“That’s an exhausting game,” Greg Deichmann said. “But that’s exactly what the SEC is all about. Momentum swings; lead changes. We had to use basically our entire bullpen. Then guys just stepping up one after another. That was the difference between tonight and Friday night … Today, when we had the opportunities, we got it done. It’s just a huge win for us.”
It culminated with LSU’s first walk-off win of the season. Duplantis received an ice water shower and two separate shaving cream pies to celebrate the ocassion.
“It was nice to get a walk-off win finally,” a noticeably relieved LSU coach Paul Mainieri smiled.
LSU manufactured the winning run with help from the Gamecock defense. Zach Watson led off with an infield single that careened off the pitcher. After a sacrifice bunt, Cole Freeman reached on an error by the shortstop to put men on the corners with one out.
That set the stage for Duplantis, who laid off two low-and-away sliders before serving a fastball into shallow left field for the game winner.
It took a bit of defensive wizardry to keep South Carolina from taking the lead in the top of the tenth.
After a one-out walk, Jacob Olson doubled into the left field corner off Zack Hess. Duplantis fielded and fired to Kramer Robertson, who uncorked a perfect relay throw to cut down the go-ahead run at home plate.
“You always hear baseball is a game of inches,” said Robertson, who didn’t think he had any real chance to throw out the runner once the ball lodged under the fence. “It really is. Couple inches one way or the other, it could be a different outcome. It was a total team effort today.”
There was plenty of bizarre drama along the way to extra innings, too.
LSU rallied back twice in as many innings against flame-throwing closer Tyler Johnson. Johnson hit Cole Freeman to begin the ninth inning and Duplantis chopped a hit-and-run single through the right side — his fourth hit of the afternoon.
Deichmann tied the game with a bloop single just over the shortstops’ head. Duplantis then tagged up and moved up to third base on a bang-bang play. A fly ball of medium depth could’ve ended the game.
The Gamecocks elected to intentionally walk the bases loaded with one out. Johnson blew away Beau Jordan and popped up Mike Papierski to send the game to extras.
Hunter Newman typically puts a few runners on base before figuring a way out of trouble — he couldn’t Sunday.
LSU’s veteran closer began the ninth inning of a 5-5 game by hitting a batter with a 1-2 pitch. After a sacrifice bunt, he then walked No. 9 hitter Madison Stokes. An infield single loaded the bases and LT Tolbert lifted a sacrifice fly to center field to bring home the go-ahead run.
Newman issued an intentional walk to re-load the bases and was promptly hooked. Hess came on and induced a ground ball to second to get LSU out of the inning. Hess earned the win in relief.
The Tigers took advantage of a controversial call in the eighth to knot the game up at 5-5. Watson grounded into the shortstop hole and legged out a game-tying, RBI infield single against Johnson after it was ruled the first baseman’s foot came off the bag.
Replay shows that the throw beat Watson, but it’s unclear if Matt Williams’ toes remained in contact with the bag. The play doesn’t fall under the guidelines for video review. A South Carolina assistant was ejected from game while arguing the call from the dugout.
Speed on the base paths played a key role in LSU’s rallies in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings.
“That’s the good thing about having athletes on this team,” Duplantis said. “We can put pressure on the defense. We don’t have to rely on the big long ball. Even if we’re not hitting the ball great, we can still piece things together.”
The series victory moves LSU to 32-16 overall and 15-9 in the Southeastern Conference, one game back of Mississippi State for the divisional lead. South Carolina dropped to 27-19 overall and 11-13 in league play.
South Carolina took an early lead after TJ Hopkins and Tolbert led off the game with successive singles. Hopkins scored on a ground ball two batters later, but LSU right hander Eric Walker managed to strand Tolbert in scoring position and limit the damage.
A series of lengthy, quality at-bats against Gamecocks right hander Reed Scott translated into a lead for LSU in the second inning. Mike Papierski tied the game with an RBI single through the right side to score Josh Smith, who’d walked. Watson brought home a second run with a ground ball.
Walker struck out Gamecocks cleanup man Jonah Bride to strand runners on the corners in the third inning. A diving stop from Smith at third base and subsequent throw from his knees helped Walker get around a leadoff walk in the fourth. He left a runner in scoring position in three of the first four innings.
Jordan, a late scratch from Saturday’s lineup, manufactured a run all by his lonesome in the fourth. He doubled down the right field line, advanced to third on a ground ball and scored on a wild pitch. Jordan also singled to left and scored in his first at-bat.
The Gamecocks got the run back with three hits off Walker in a span of four pitches. An RBI single from Tolbert got South Carolina back within a run, but Walker was poised to get out of the inning after inducing a tailor-made double play ball.
That didn’t happen.
Smith, usually reliable, froze with a baserunner coming at him and got the lead runner instead of going for the double play. This mental miscue allowed the inning to continue for Alex Destino, who hammered a 3-2 Walker offering into the right-field bleachers for a two-out, go-ahead, three-run homer.
LSU halved the deficit in the bottom of the inning but couldn’t get the game even. Deichmann drove in his first run of the weekend with a single through the right side.
Nick Coomes, batting with men on the corners and one out, lifted a fly ball to right field. Antoine Duplantis, who collected his third hit of the game, tried to tag up and score, but was thrown out by South Carolina right fielder Jacob Olson. Duplantis slid around home plate and was tagged out.
The Tigers got another chance to draw even in the seventh inning. Watson got plunked and Freeman laid down a beautiful bunt for a hit. Deichmann came up with men on second and third with two outs, and despite first base being open, South Carolina lefty Josh Reagan elected to go after him.
Deichmann laced the first pitch he saw down the first base line, but Williams, a defensive substitute, made a spinning backhanded pick and took the ball to the bag himself to end the inning and steal a two-run double from Deichmann.
“This game is crazy,” Deichmann laughed. “Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don’t. I’m just happy we got this win.”
The bullpen did its part to keep LSU within one. Caleb Gilbert worked a 1-2-3 sixth inning and Nick Bush retired all six men he faced with a strikeout. Their efforts allowed LSU to get the game tied in the bottom of the eighth. LSU will be back in action Tuesday night as the Tigers host South Alabama at the Box. First pitch it set for 6:30 p.m.