Vanderbilt defeats LSU 9-7 in series finale
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
LSU hadn’t swept Vanderbilt since Skip Bertman’s fourth national championship club accomplished the feat in 1997. Tim Corbin’s Commodores hadn’t been swept in a three-game series of any kind dating back to 2012.
Both streaks live to see another day thanks to Jeren Kendall’s three-run blast off LSU closer Caleb Gilbert in the eighth inning.
The two-out homer off a 2-2 offering turned a 7-6 LSU advantage into a 9-7 Vanderbilt victory as the Tigers narrowly missed out on a chance to engineer an unlikely sweep of the nation’s second-ranked team on a picturesque Saturday afternoon at Alex Box Stadium.
“If you’re going to be able to win in this league, you’ve got to be able to close them out in the end,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “You’ve got to be able to hold the leads. Last night we did and today we didn’t. Consequently we won last night and today we didn’t.”
LSU coach Paul Mainieri went to his freshman closer to attempt a six-out save in a one-run ball game. He quickly recorded the first two outs of the inning, but pinch hitter Ro Coleman — scratched from the lineup due to illness — and second baseman Tyler Campbell singled successively to flip the lineup.
That gave Kendall an opportunity to swing with the tying and go-ahead runs on base, and the leadoff man dropped the barrel on Gilbert’s knee-high slider — it was called to be ankle high — and golfed the ball into the right field grandstands.
“Obviously, if he hit it out of the park, it wasn’t good enough,” Gilbert said of the pitch’s location. “But he did a good job of extending the hands and getting it out of here.”
The rookie closer continued: “I don’t really know how to put it into words. I guess just go back out and get my peroration in and try to get it out of my head.”
Kendall and Bryan Reynolds, the first two hitters in the Vanderbilt (25-7. 7-5 SEC) lineup, each homered and finished the game a combined 6-for-8 while driving in seven of Commodores’ nine runs.
“Great athlete, great talent, but it wasn’t like we gave it to them,” Mainieri said. “I think that they earned it.”
Shortstop Kramer Robertson did all he could for LSU (21-10, 6-6 SEC) in pursuit of sweep-clinching victory. He reached base safely in all five of his plate appearances, finishing 3-for-3 with two RBI, one run scored and a pair of walks.
His diving stop on a hard grounder up the middle prevented the tying run from coming home with LSU clinging to a 7-6 lead in the seventh.
“You’re four outs from sweeping Vanderbilt, so it’s a little bit tough to swallow,” Robertson said. “But we’re not going to hang our heads at all. We’re very excited with the direction that we’re headed. When you win a series against the No. 2 ranked team, you’ve got to be pleased with what you did.”
Vanderbilt opened up the scoring in the first inning courtesy of a mammoth Bryan Reynolds home run off John Valek III. The solo blast, measured off the bat at 107.2 mph by TrackMan, banked off the video board behind the left field bleachers.
The Commodores tacked on another run in the third on an RBI single by Will Toffey, but Valek stranded the bases loaded in that inning to prevent further damage.
LSU came back and took the lead with three runs in the bottom of the third. Greg Deichmann lined a 2-2 fastball through the right side to score Antoine Duplantis and get LSU on the board. Robertson followed with a clutch two-run double to left that put the Tigers ahead for the first time.
That lead, however, would be short lived. Vanderbilt came back with two runs against Valek in the fourth to retake the lead, 4-3. An uncharacteristic walk, two hard singles and a sacrifice fly did the damage.
The veteran lefty exited the game having allowed four earned runs in four innings, his shortest outing of the season thus far. He scattered seven hits and a pair of walks while striking out five against the high-powered Commodore lineup.
“I wasn’t able to get ahead of hitters the way I normally do and they were laying off my off-speed stuff,” Valek said. “That’s baseball.”
LSU came back with four runs in the fifth inning to retake the lead as Vanderbilt’s bullpen struggled to find the strike zone. Beau Jordan’s two-run single broke a 4-4 tie and gave LSU a lead.
From that point on, the Tigers mustered just two hits — Chris Reid’s infield single later in the inning and Deichmann’s double in the ninth.
Vanderbilt closer Ben Bowden came on in the eighth and converted his six-out save opportunity to put the result on ice. He got Jordan to fly meekly to right with the tying runs on base.
“I think we played really well throughout the entire game,” Robertson said. “It was a really well-played game by both teams. They made a lot of clutch plays, as did we. The ball just bounced their way today.”
LSU will back inaction with midweek games Tuesday and Wednesday against McNeese State and Grambling, respectively, before traveling to Missouri next weekend.
– Mainieri confirmed Jake Latz will get the start Wednesday against Grambling. Riley Smith, who has been working his way back from shoulder soreness, will also pitch Wednesday in relief.
– Trainers have given third baseman O’Neal Lochridge (back) the green light to return to practice Monday, Mainieri said. He’s hit in the cages on his own and took some grounders Saturday. It’ll likely be a ‘controlled’ effort, Mainieri said, with the freshman easing himself back. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and see if he can keep moving forward.”
– Whether it was Jordan Romero, Beau Jordan or Brody Wofford, LSU cleanup hitters finished the weekend 1-for-13 with six strikeouts. The lone hit came via a pinch hit appearance by Cody Ducote in the eighth inning of Thursday’s 13-4 blowout. “We’ll re-evaluate it all and figure out what we’re going to do going forward.”