By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Cole Freeman dropped ever closer to the infield dirt as Nathaniel Lowe rounded third base and trotted toward home plate during the first inning of Friday night’s 12-8 loss to Mississippi State.
The second baseman had inexplicably dropped a perfect feed from shortstop Kramer Robertson, botching a tailor-made, inning-ending double play and loaded the bases. Lowe promptly unloaded them by belting Jared Poche’s very next offering deep into the Baton Rouge night.
“I just took my eye off and I was trying to throw too fast,” Freeman said. “I think that might be the first time I’ve ever done that, but you’ve just got to stay focused. I believe this loss is 110 percent on me. You take those four off and we go out and score the next four. That’s just me letting my team down.”
Mississippi State tallied five runs between the fifth and sixth innings and withstood two furious LSU comeback bids 12-8 contest and claim the series-opener of the weekend’s divisional showdown.
The Tigers allowed 13 hits, left 13 men on base and committed three errors, souring the celebratory festivities on a Friday night when legendary Eddy Furniss had his jersey retired into the façade at Alex Box Stadium.
Later, with LSU having clawed back within a run, Mike Papierski dropped a third strike that allowed Hunter Stovall to reach safely and spark a three-run rally in the eighth.
Those two miscues amounted to four unearned Mississippi State runs, the final margin of victory in a wild, intense, back-and-fourth contest at Alex Box Stadium.
“We didn’t pitch particularly great,” LSU coach Maineri said. “Our pitching was about the same as their pitching tonight as far as their effectiveness. The difference in the ball game was simply the defense.”
The Tigers began chipping away at the deficit with a flurry of two-out singles in the second inning. Chris Reid and Papierski began the rally with successive singles, and Freeman chopped an RBI single through the right side to get LSU on the board and net himself a bit of redemption. Antoine Duplantis followed with an RBI single back through the box to cut the deficit to two.
LSU came back and tied the game with two more runs in the third. Robertson led off the inning with a single, and Bryce Jordan perfectly executed a hit-and-run to put men on the corners with one out. Reid pulled an RBI single through the right side and Mike Papierski tied the game with a successful squeeze play.
State ace Dakota Hudson hadn’t allowed more than eight hits in a start all season. LSU tagged him for season-highs of 12 hits and seven earned runs.
“We probably hit him around more than anybody has hit him around all year,” Mainieri said. “He’s really good, but our guys battled him … Our kids never quit, and I’m really proud of that.”
Riding that momentum, LSU had chances to unknot the game in both the fourth and fifth innings but couldn’t capitalize.
Beau Jordan delivered a two-out single to center with Greg Deichmann in scoring position in the fourth only to have him thrown out at the plate. Jake Magnum’s throw to the dish was a laser, but on the replay Deichmann appeared to beat the tag of catcher Elih Marrero.
Both Mainieri (twice) and third base coach Nolan Cain had words with home plate umpire Mike Morris.
“People tell me he was pretty clearly safe,” Mainieri said, still not having seen the replay. “I thought he was safe. I thought it was pretty obvious he was safe. But the umpires make the calls the best they can.
He added: “The calls a pretty big momentum shift for us. Had a chance to come back and take the lead. Instead it’s still tied. That’s the way it goes. It’s part of the game. You have to overcome those things. We just weren’t able to today.”
Poche’ had settled in since his rocky first inning, allowing just two hits over the next four frames as his offense drew even.
He came one pitch from escaping the sixth with the game still tied, but State No. 9 hitter Hunter Stovall laced a high fastball the other way to the gap in right-center for a go-ahead two-run double. Gavin Collins followed with an RBI single.
The veteran lefty took the loss after being charged with seven runs (six earned) over six innings of work.
“They just put the ball in play and found holes,” Poche’ said. “Hats off to those guys. I felt pretty good tonight to be honest. It just wasn’t my day.”
The Bulldogs tacked on two more in the seventh after Austin Bain entered the game and allowed all three men he faced to reach base. Doug Norman limited the damage, but LSU still trailed 9-4 at the stretch.
Duplantis did all he could to bring LSU back. Up with the bases loaded in the seventh, he sent towering fly ball into the right-field grandstands for a slam of his own. The rookie’s first career homer set a new career-high of five RBI and brought LSU’s second comeback bid to within a run at 9-8 in the seventh.
“Eight runs (normally) wins a Friday night game, so I thought we hit the ball pretty well,” Duplantis said. “We could have got a couple more runs, but eight runs is good enough. We just had to play better defense all around.”
The jubilation around the building subsided quickly as the Bulldogs came back with three unearned runs against Caleb Gilbert in the ensuing frame.
A passed ball charged to Papierski allowed Stovall to reach on a strikeout. Brent Rooker singled home an insurance run with two outs and Lowe followed with a two-run double to cap a six-RBI night.
Freeman got one more chance for vindication, batting with the bases loaded and two outs after State reliever Ryan Rigby. Instead, left fielder Reid Humphreys took the mound and got Freeman swinging. Humphreys fanned him on a 2-2 breaking ball to extinguish the threat.
LSU will look to even the series on Saturday night with Alex Lange on the mound. Mississippi State will counter with Austin Sexton.