LSU claims first SEC series win, holds off Kentucky with key hits, clutch pitching

LSU's winning pitcher AJ Labas pitched into the seventh inning. He allowed three runs on six hits with one walk and six strikeouts.

LSU relief pitcher Devin Fontenot sprinted from his team’s victorious dugout, anxious to congratulate fellow reliever Garrett Edwards on a job well done.

Edwards worked a perfect ninth inning, retiring Kentucky for a save in Saturday’s 8-6 victory at Kentucky’s Proud Park and securing the Tigers first Southeastern Conference series win of the season.

LSU (20-11, 3-8 in SEC) will go for its first conference sweep since the Tigers took three games March 16-17, 2019 from Kentucky. They face the Wildcats (19-9, 5-6) at noon in Sunday’s finale with freshman Blake Money (1-0, 4.91 ERA) getting the start.

“I knew Garrett had it in him to get the job done,” Fontenot said. “I had all the confidence in him, and I wanted to let him know we had his back, and he did the job.”

LSU’s second straight win over Kentucky had some of the same characteristics of Friday’s 15-2 blowout. The Tigers, with an 11-hit night from their offense, jumped out to a big lead midway through and starting pitcher AJ Labas silenced Kentucky, 7-1, after six innings in a game last lasted nearly four hours.

“We played a good game,” Mainieri said. “I didn’t think Kentucky would go away. They didn’t. They battled us right until the end and we were able to hang on. It was a good win for us and I’m happy for our kids.”

With Labas tiring in the bottom of the seventh, Kentucky scored four times when reliever Ty Floyd issued two walks and allowed a two-run single that made it 7-5.

Fontenot inherited two runners on when he entered the game but was able to get an inning-ending double play that shortstop Jordan Thompson started, throwing to second baseman Collier Cranford and first baseman Tre’ Morgan.

Fontenot had to dig down deep to preserve his team’s lead which was reduced to one run in the eighth. He coaxed a ground ball that turned into a run-scoring fielder’s choice, that made it 7-6, but after hitting a batter to load the bases, he got another ground ball to Cranford who threw to Thompson for the final out.

“I didn’t have my best stuff tonight, but I made pitches when I needed to and we got the win,” Fontenot said. “That’s all that matters.”

Thompson, who went 3-for-5, gave LSU some insurance with a two-out RBI-single that scored left fielder Gavin Dugas. It was LSU’s first run in four innings against Kentucky reliever Sean Harney and stopped a stretch of five unanswered runs from the Wildcats.

“A lot of games before this haven’t really gone our way because we haven’t done that,” Dugas said of Fontenot’s clutch pitching in the eighth and Thompson’s key RBI hit in the ninth. “Today we were able to and yesterday (Friday) we hit really well. It’s the little things like that will help us win SEC baseball games and that’s what we’re going to continue to build on and just run with.”

Edwards, who was the team’s anticipated starter in game three, made short work of Kentucky with a 1-2-3 inning in the ninth for his third save of the season.

LSU, which opened a 9-0 lead Friday through five innings, opened a commanding 7-1 advantage through six frames. The Tigers improved to 16-5 when scoring first and 20-1 when they’ve led after six innings.

The Tigers scored twice in the second, third and fourth innings with designated hitter Cade Beloso driving in a run with a single through the right side of the infield for a six-run lead in the fifth inning.

Kentucky kept LSU at arm’s length with Harney, its closer, holding the Tigers scoreless until there were two outs in the ninth when Thompson singled home third baseman Cade Doughty, who also singled.

Harney, who had retired 11 of the 14 batters he faced until Doughty’s hit, allowed four hits with five strikeouts and a walk.

“He has a good arm and was able to shut us down for quite a while,” Mainieri said of Harney.

LSU opened its scoring when Zach Arnold drew a bases-loaded walk from Kentucky starter Ryan Hagenow and Tre Morgan, facing reliever Holt Jones, drove in Beloso with a sacrifice fly to left field.

The Tigers extended that margin to 7-1 when Doughty singled sharply off the glove of the third baseman, scoring Dugas who led off the third with a triple and Beloso added his second RBI with a sacrifice fly to center field.

Kentucky got a run back in the bottom half of the inning on Cam Hill’s solo homer off Labas, but LSU responded with two runs – courtesy of Dugas’ two-run homer to left field.

It was the ninth homer of the season for Dugas, who joined Dylan Crews and Doughty for the team lead, and it was the Tigers’ fifth consecutive game with a homer.

Labas pitched into seventh inning before leaving after having thrown 98 pitches. He allowed three runs on six hits with one walk and six strikeouts.

“It feels like it is,” Labas said of a potential turn in the team’s fortunes. “We’re getting the clutch hits when we need them, the big pitches whenever we need them. Finally, everything’s starting to change for the better for us.”

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William Weathers

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