Furious LSU comeback gives Tigers an 8-7 lead in game two at Tennessee when ninth-inning rain suspends play until Sunday

Paul Mainieri sat in the back of the LSU dugout and his COVID-19 mask couldn’t hide the stress in his eyes.

His first two pitchers had given up three home runs, including a pair of two-run bombs, to a .154 hitter batting last in Tennessee’s lineup.

His hitters had broken out of their hitting slump, but still left six runners on base as LSU trailed by four runs through six innings.

Nine more LSU outs would mean for the first time since 1969 that the Tigers lost its first two SEC baseball series of the season by dropping its first two games in each series.

But LSU dug deep in a now-or-never gut check. After the Tigers scored two runs in the seventh inning while leaving the bases loaded, LSU continued the rally in the eighth.

Right fielder Dylan Crews solo homer to dead centerfield and two-run homer by left fielder Gavin Dugas gave LSU an 8-7 lead.

After Tigers’ freshman reliever Ty Floyd retired Tennessee in order in the Vols’ eighth, the game was stopped in the LSU ninth with second baseman Zach Arnold leading off the inning.

Rain and lightning caused the game to be suspended. It will be resumed Sunday at 11:30 a.m. with game three to follow 30 minutes after the conclusion of game two.

LSU’s comeback was stunning, considering the Tigers could not string together hits and neither LSU starting pitcher Jaden Hill and reliever Ma’Khail Hillard could stop grooving home run pitches to Tennessee left fielder Evan Russell.

Russell, a .154 hitter with one home run entering Saturday, tied a school-record hitting three homers.

His first launch of a two-run homer off Hill to straightaway center field tied the game at 2-2 in the third inning.

His two-run homer off Hillard that he momentarily admired as it disappeared over the left field wall started Tennessee’s four-run fifth inning for a 6-3 Vols’ advantage.

Finally, Russell’s one-out solo homer again to dead centerfield in the sixth off Hilliard upped Tennessee’s lead to 7-3.

At that point, Hillard retired the next five of six Tennessee batters. By the time, Floyd took the mound in the eighth, his teammates had given him a one-run lead that he preserved.

Hill gave up four hits (including two homers and a double) and six runs (all earned) in four innings. He struck out six and walked four.

Hilliard lasted three innings, allowing two hits and one (earned) run while striking out three and walking one. Floyd struck out one in his perfect inning.

So far in the three-game series with almost the first two games complete, six LSU pitchers have combined to allow 11 hits (eight for extra bases) and 10 runs (all earned) while striking out 23 and walking 12.

It’s likely once game two re-starts, LSU senior reliever Devin Fontenot will be on the mound in the Tennessee ninth to close the game.

It’s likely once game two re-starts, LSU senior reliever Devin Fontenot will be on the mound in the Tennessee ninth to close the game.

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Ron Higgins

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