After two days of sloppy, high-scoring routs for LSU over Bryant, a contentious pitching duel broke out in the series finale.
A steady wind howling in from left-center field transformed Alex Box Stadium from a launching pad to a cavernous graveyard. Balls that would’ve left the yard on most night were instead loud outs, meaning runs had to be manufactured another way.
Zach Watson stole second and slid around a tag at home plate in the seventh inning to score the go-ahead run on a clutch two-out single by Antoine Duplantis. That held up as LSU edged Bryant 4-3 to finish off a series sweep on Sunday afternoon.
“I’m just happy we found a way to win at the end,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “That’s our fourth close game in seven, so our team is really gaining a lot of confidence on how to win games with composure and poise and clutch relief pitching and clutch hitting at the end.
“Nothing bad happens when you win close games.”
The game was tied heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. After two quick outs, Watson fouled off four two-strike pitches before grounding a single up the middle.
The speedy outfielder stole second to get into scoring position for the team’s leading run producer. Duplantis got ahead in the count and lined a 2-1 fastball into right field for the game-winning hit.
“You don’t want to blow everybody out or not play any close games,” Duplantis said. “Then that bullpen or your offense doesn’t have that feeling of having to get those clutch hits. It’s huge to get a taste of it now before you get to the SEC and it feels like every game is like that.”
Two relievers shared the title of hero with Watson and Duplantis.
Aaron George inherited a mini jam in the sixth inning and struck out three of the four batters he faced to pick up the win in relief. Todd Peterson then came on in the eighth to nail down a six-out save.
“You’ve got to do whatever it takes,” Peterson said. “I think tonight’s win was an example of doing whatever it takes.”
LSU (7-0) once again raced out to an early lead thanks to Josh Smith. The leadoff man extraordinaire singled in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to seven games, and he came around to score a first-inning run for the sixth time in those seven games.
A Watson single and an intentional walk to Daniel Cabrera loaded the bases. Saul Garza got LSU on the board with a sacrifice fly to deep center field, his third such productive of the weekend.
First baseman Gavin Dugas, making his first career start, followed with a two-out RBI single. He also drew a walk and came around to score on an error in the fourth inning after Bryant had cut the lead in half.
LSU right-hander Jaden Hill seemingly had the game on cruise control to that point. He allowed one run on two hits over five strong innings before leaving due to an elevated pitch count.
The freshman’s best work came in the fifth inning. Bryant was threatening again after a walk, a stolen base and a pass ball put a runner on third base with one out. Hill struck out the top two hitters in the Bryant order looking to strand the runner.
“I thought Hill pitched very courageously today,” Mainieri said. “He threw way too many pitches for five innings for how little he gave up. That means he was going to a full count an awful lot.”
LSU wouldn’t be so fortunate when Hill left the game. Matt Beck took over in the sixth inning and struggled for the third time in four outings.
His issues were seemingly compounded by catcher Brock Mathis, who allowed a pass ball and two more stolen bases as Bryant rallied to tie the game.
LSU has now allowed 15 stolen bases this season without throwing a would-be base stealer out. Mainieri felt that most of the blame belonged with the pitchers for being too slow to the plate, but Mathis took the blame for himself.
“I’ll never throw those guys under the bus,” Mathis said. “Never will I ever do that because I believe in those guys and those guys work hard day in and day out. ”
The Tigers will enjoy a day off Monday before hosting South Alabama on Tuesday night to begin a five-game week.