Loss ends 11-game winning streak
By JAMES BEWERS
Special to Tiger Rag
LSU freshman righty Caleb Gilbert labored through the first inning of Saturday’s regular season finale against No. 1 Florida at Alex Box Stadium.
The Tigers (39-17, 19-11 Southeastern Conference) had already taken the series from the Gators (44-11, 19-10 SEC) by finishing off Thursday’s rainout with a 7-3 victory earlier in the day. But the home team found itself in a 2-0 hole before it came to the plate for the first time in a 6-2 loss in seven innings.
“Just wish I would have got ahead little bit on the first pitch more,” Gilbert said. “My strike percentage on the second pitch was pretty good. But with a team like this, you really want to get ahead early and execute pitches.”
Jake Fraley alleviated some of the damage with a towering solo home run in the bottom half of the inning. Florida right-hander Alex Faedo, who entered with 10-1 record and a 7.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio, remained undeterred.
A four-run fifth inning gave the Gator hurler the needed insurance.
Faedo (11-1) allowed just two runs over 5.1 innings of work, contributing to LSU’s 1-for-8 clip with runners in scoring position, as Florida avoided the sweep.
With the loss, which ended an 11-game win streak, LSU will be the No. 5 seed in the SEC tournament. It will play Tuesday against No. 12-seed Tennessee at approximately 8 p.m. at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama.
Despite its success in the league tournament under Mainieri, the Tigers will be in uncharted territory when it travels to Hoover. LSU has never played in a play-in game since the elimination round’s inception in 2013.
If LSU is able to beat the Volunteers, it will enter the double-elimination portion of the tournament needing two wins to get to Saturday’s single-elimination semifinal. The Tigers would play the No. 4-seed Gators on Wednesday in that scenario.
“I know you have to play and extra game,” Mainieri said. “But, if you can win three in a row, you get Friday off and then it gives you a chance to regroup.”
Aside from Fraley’s blast, Faedo eased of jams throughout his outing. After stranding runners at first and second in the first, he escaped the second with no damage, aided by 1-5 putout of Greg Deichmann.
He allowed just a two-out walk in third and erased a two-on, two-out threat in the fourth with a ground out.
Gilbert settled in following the early deficit, retiring 10 straight batters after a leadoff single in the second. However, Jeremy Vasquez notched a one-out single in the fifth, and Ryan Larson executed a hit-and-run to put runners at the corner.
“[Gilbert] gave up a hit, and then they pinch ran for [Vasquez],” Mainieri said. “Man, I suspected a hit-and-run. I should followed my gut and called a pitchout, and I didn’t. You give credit to them.”
The consecutive Gator singles chased Gilbert from the game for right-hander Russell Reynolds. Reynolds then plunked leadoff hitter Dalton Guthrie and Jonathan India cleared the bases with a two-strike double down the left-field line.
LSU scratched across a run in the bottom half of the inning on Kramer Robertson’s triple and Chris Reid’s RBI double. Faedo, though, limited the Tigers efforts in the fifth by stranding Reid at second base.
“I think we hit [Faedo] hard, some hard outs.” Robertson said. “This game, it didn’t seemed like we came up with the big two-out hit. We swung the bats well again today against another first-round arm. That kid is going to make millions of dollars next year.”
Florida reliever Shaun Anderson recorded the final five Gator outs, including an inning-ending punch out with men on first and second in the sixth.
Mainieri has not officially named a starter for Tuesday’s SEC tournament opener against Tennessee. Tiger ace Alex Lange threw only 39 pitches before the series opener against the Gators was suspended until today.
“We started this season with a very young and inexperienced team, and we won 39 games. And we won 19 in the conference.” Mainieri said. “We’ve won the SEC championship before with 19 wins. I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of. I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position to host a regional. Maybe, we’ve got to do some work over in Hoover. That’s the plan.”