It was the kind of moment that Daniel Cabrera had turned down hundreds-of-thousands of dollars to get the chance to experience, and like it or not, the freshman was going to soak it in.
Cabrera stood in the batter’s box and watched as his towering blast flew toward its eventual home in the right field bleachers. Only after quite the exaggerated bat flip did he begin his celebratory victory trot around the bases.
“That’s why I came to LSU,” Cabrera smiled through the remnants of a shaving cream pie. “I wanted to soak in the moment because I knew it was going over. It was one of those balls where you don’t even feel it off the bat. You just know you got all of it.”
Cabrera now owns the first walk-off homer by an LSU player since Chris Sciambra did it to UL-Lafayette in the 2015 Baton Rouge Super Regional. His dramatic three-run blast capped a wild comeback as LSU scored six times in the ninth to stun Tennessee 9-7 and complete a sweep.
“Hey, we had them right where we wanted them,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri smiled. “It’s just hard to put into words what we just witnessed today.”
Here’s an attempt to do just that: Tennessee led LSU 7-3 headed to the bottom of the ninth inning with right-hander Will Neely cruising toward a complete-game victory. Instead LSU stormed back from four runs down in the ninth for the second time since 1972.
LSU is now 2-303 in such games. The other win came in the famed Rally Possum game.
Chris Reid pinch hit to begin the inning and reached on an error committed by the Tennessee shortstop. Beau Jordan then singled through the vacated right side of the infield — Tennessee applied an overshift against him all weekend — and Zach Watson reached on another Tennessee error.
Tennessee hooked Neely for flame-throwing reliever Zach Linginfelter, who plunked Antoine Duplantis with a 96 mph fastball. Duplantis boasted afterword that he was so jacked up at the time that it felt good to wear one for the team.
That passed the baton to Austin Bain, who’d sprinted to the bullpen for a few warm-up tosses mid pitching change in case there was a 10 inning to pitch. Bain was out of breath when after sprinting back, but he smoked a 96 mph heater to the right-center field gap for a two-run double.
“They told me he had a plus-plus fastball, so look fastball,” said Bain, who didn’t even get the benefit of watching Linginfelter warm up. “I was just geared up, he gave it to me and I put the best swing I could on it as hard as I could.
“I felt like the momentum snowballed from there. The whole time we were down by one it felt like we were up by 10.”
Tennessee went to the bullpen again, and two batters later Cabrera dug in with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. He was just trying to get a base hit, or at least a sac fly to tie the game.
Instead Tennessee right-hander Andrew Schultz challenged him with a fastball down and in — the sweet spot for Cabrera’s lefty swing — and the freshman dropped the barrel on it.
“I want to hit in these situations,” Cabrera said. “I wasn’t nervous, and I want to be remembered as one of the best hitters in clutch situations. I want to hit against the best pitchers; that guy was amazing. That’s why I want to play in the SEC with the best.”
Mainieri isn’t normally cool with his players admiring their home runs and has benched a few for doing so, but in this rare circumstance, the old school coach was fine with the full-on pimping from Cabrera.
“I was watching Cabrera watch his home run,” Mainieri said. “He deserved to stand there and watch that one, I think.”
The come-from-behind stunner pulls LSU (24-13, 9-6 SEC) within a game of first-place Arkansas in the SEC West at the halfway point of the 30-game league schedule. It was quite a wild way for Mainieri to win career game No. 1,400.
LSU looked dead in the water for much of the series finale, digging itself a big hole with poor pitching early and a string of defensive lapses.
Freshman AJ Labas served up a three-run home run to Nico Mascia in the third inning that put LSU in an early 4-0 hole. LSU fought back to get within 4-3, but things looked bleak after a comedy of errors allowed Tennessee to tack on three insurance runs between the seventh and eighth innings.
“We weren’t having a great game,” Mainieri said. “Things weren’t going our way, and then my goodness, a never-say-die attitude can take you a long ways. What a special moment.”
LSU will play four games on the road next week beginning with a trip to Tulane on Wednesday night. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. at Turchin Stadium.