LSU had been digging its own grave with a mixture of walks and missed opportunities for eight innings, but the Tigers came back to life in the nick of time.
Saul Garza came off the bench with a pinch hit single to put the tying run on base. Giovanni DiGiacomo beat out a slow roller to keep the inning alive with two outs. Hal Hughes struck out, but he reached safely to load the bases as the ball got away from the catcher.
That set the stage for Josh Smith, who dunked a walk-off two-run single into shallow center field. The winning runs came home and LSU escaped with a dramatic, somewhat-fortunate 4-3 win at Alex Box Stadium on Friday night.
“We didn’t really have a great game tonight,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We found a way to win. We’ve got to play a lot better than this, but at least we found a way to win.”
The late rally prevented what would’ve been a frustrating loss for LSU (10-3) and kept them them undefeated at home this season.
The pitching staff issued eight walks and the offense squandered several golden opportunities, but the Tigers made the most of some good fortune in the end.
Smith’s at-bat was fairly emblematic of the night as a whole. Mainieri gave him a pep talk about salvaging an 0-for-4 night, and the shortstop promptly swung at one pitch over his head and another in the dirt.
“This is so great about baseball,” Mainieri said. “You can’t get too down on yourself because you always get another chance.”
It was hardly a thing of beauty, but Smith got the end of the bat on a 2-2 pitch and looped it up the middle.
“Honestly, the first swing I took was way too big,” Smith said. “The second swing I took was a terrible swing. The hit was a terrible swing too, but it fell for me so I’ll take it.”
He explained: “Butt out, just off the cap of the bat, but I placed it perfectly.”
The night started rather inauspiciously for Zack Hess as Cal left fielder Cameron Eden led off the game with a long home run to left-center field.
There was some palpable anxiety in the building as Cal hit rocket after rocket in the first, but the right-hander settled into a groove and posted his best start of the season so far.
Hess found his breaking ball in the middle innings, which helped him pitch out of a series of jams. He was one strike away from posting six strong innings of one-run ball, but things unraveled for LSU after two quick outs to begin the sixth.
Mainieri went to the bullpen after Hess yielded a sharp single to center and issued a walk. Aaron George came on, and two walks later the go-ahead run was forced in. A second run came home on a pass ball.
“A lot of great things, but it took a lot of pitches again,” Mainieri said of Hess’ 5.2 innings. “Every inning takes a lot of pitches, but I thought Zack got stronger in the middle innings. He kept his team in the game just like he always does.”
LSU found itself in such a tight game because of its inability to do anything against Cal lefty Arman Sabouri.
Sabouri is known as a pitcher who doesn’t go deeper than three innings, but Cal stuck with him as he carved up the LSU lineup. He allowed just one run on one hit in five innings, and it took him just 48 pitches to do it.
“That was a little discouraging for me because I know we’re going to be facing left-handers in the SEC,” Mainieri said. “We’ll face one next Friday night. I had six lefties in the lineup because I wanted to see how they handled the lefty … We couldn’t square anything up.”
LSU halved the deficit in the seventh inning once Sabouri left the game.
Cade Beloso singled with one out and Chris Reid grounded a double over the third base bag. Mathis lifted a sacrifice fly to bring home one run, but the tying run was stranded on second base.
Due to inclement weather in the Sunday forecast, the series will be completed with a double head starting Saturday at 1 p.m. Both games will be seven innings and the series finale will begin 45 minutes after the completion of game two.