Staring down the barrel of a loss that would push the season to the brink, LSU found itself trailing 2-0 on the road against the best pitcher in the country with only 12 outs to go.
The great Casey Mize was as nasty as advertised, striking out nine through the first five innings. But once Auburn gave its ace a lead to protect, suddenly LSU figured out how to solved the presumptive No. 1 pick in next month’s MLB Draft.
LSU exploded for four runs on five hits in the sixth inning to cease the lead and held on to defeat Auburn 6-2 at Plainsman Park on Friday night, evening the series and forcing a rubber match on Saturday.
Whatever happens in the series finale, it’s a critical win for LSU (33-22, 15-14 Southeastern Conference) in that it clinches at worst a .500 finish in league play. Getting swept by Auburn (36-19, 14-15 SEC) would’ve put LSU’s NCAA Tournament on life support heading into the SEC Tournament.
Zach Watson sparked the rally with a one-out double. Antoine Duplantis smashed an RBI single to get LSU on the board and Austin Bain tied the game with an RBI double. Run-scoring knocks from Daniel Cabrera and Beau Jordan propelled LSU to a 4-2 lead.
That provided a lead for Ma’Khail Hilliard, who once again bounced back from a rocky outing to come up huge in a game LSU had to have.
Hilliard matched Mize zero for zero in the early going, but Auburn broke through in the fifth inning when a chopper bounded through a drawn-in LSU infield for a two-run single.
But the freshman put the clamps down once LSU got to Mize. He posted a shutdown 1-2-3 inning in the sixth and retired the side again in the seventh on just four pitches.
Hilliard worked into the eighth inning before appearing to run out of gas amid a driving rainstorm. Todd Peterson inherited a 2-0 count with the tying runs on base, but the hard-throwing reliever retired two of Auburn’s most dangerous hitters to end the inning without damage.
A lightning delay grounded the game to a halt with one out in the top of the ninth inning. Play resumed after 61 minutes and LSU tacked on two insurance runs thanks to two-out hits from Watson and Duplantis. Peterson returned in the bottom of the ninth despite the long layoff and nailed down the save.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri announced earlier in the day that freshman right-hander AJ Labas would get the start in Saturday’s rubber match. His status was questionable going into the series due to shoulder soreness.