HOOVER, Ala. — Handed his most difficult chance yet since receiving a battlefield promotion to closer, Todd Peterson saved not just a do-or-die Southeastern Conference Tournament opener but perhaps LSU’s season itself.
Peterson a tenuous 6-5 lead with the tying and go-ahead runs aboard in the eighth inning. Mississippi State was making its move with the heart of the order due up, and any slip-up would mean a one-and-done stay in Hoover and six long days of waiting for a verdict from the NCAA Selection Committee.
A clutch play from Hal Hughes at shortstop ended the eighth inning as Peterson nailed down the final six outs and LSU tacked on in the home eighth for an 8-5 victory over Mississippi State in front of a rowdy bi-partisan crowd at the Hoover Met on Tuesday night.
“At the very end, Todd Peterson was just amazing,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He’s been doing this for us for a while now, and what a difference it’s made for our team.”
For Peterson, it was an incredible moment of redemption on the same stage that featured his lowest moment as a Tiger. Then a freshman, Peterson was tapped to start last season’s SEC Tournament opener only to get himself suspended the night before the game.
Peterson admitted after the fact that he was a bit gassed when he returned for the ninth, making the insurance runs all the more important. Mississippi State fought to the end, bringing the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but Peterson dug deep and got that all-important 27th out on another ground ball to his trusty shortstop.
“It feels great just doing my part of this team in the role I’m in,” Peterson said. “Leaving it all on the field. I knew I had nothing left (in the ninth), and I told myself I’ve just got to throw as hard as I can and do everything I can to get out of here.”
LSU took the lead for good thanks to a goofy rally that seemed to personify an intense game that wasn’t exactly well played by either side.
A hit-and-run infield single and a pitcher fielding gaffe set the table, and Jake Slaughter wore a 1-2 offering off his bicep with the bases loaded to force home the go-ahead run in the seventh. Nick Coomes added a sacrifice fly to put LSU ahead 6-4.
That lead nearly disappeared in the blink of an eye. Mississippi State ripped off three consecutive singles against LSU reliever Austin Bain, but Peterson jogged in and put out the fire.
Hughes helped, of course, flagging down a high chopper that appeared ticketed for center field off the bat. The stakes were doubly high for Peterson, who shook off a fastball in favor of his hook.
“I didn’t get it down enough, so he hit it and I turned to see Hal get it,” Peterson recounted. “I was like ‘Wow, thank goodness.’ I went up to his after and said ‘You know what, you did that for me, I’ll do anything for you.’ He picked me up, so I’ll pick you up.”
LSU wasted no time getting the insurance run back plus another for good measure. Hughes singled to begin the eighth, and Antoine Duplantis cranked a two-out triple into the right-center-field gap. Bain followed with an RBI knock of his own.
No. 8 seed LSU moves on to face No. 1 Florida Wednesday afternoon as the tournament format shifts to double elimination, meaning the Tigers will be the beneficiaries of at least two more days of résumé building opportunities in Hoover.
LSU lefty Nick Bush flirted with disaster in each of the first few innings, and after wiggling out of a couple jams, Mississippi State made him pay in the third. Third baseman Justin Foscue banged a two-out, two-run double off the wall in left field that would’ve been gone in most SEC ballparks.
Bush clearly didn’t have his best stuff, yielding six hits in three innings, and LSU coach Paul Mainieri went to the emergency protocol and brought Zack Hess into a 2-0 game to begin the fourth inning.
LSU hoped its ace could buy time to figure out Pilkington, but Hess was all over the place when he entered. Hess issued four walks in the fourth, and he had to walk a tight rope to ensure a Tanner Allen sacrifice fly was the only damage done in the frame.
Mississippi State ace Konnor Pilkington started on short rest and stymied LSU through four innings, but LSU finally got to the lefty in the fifth.
A leadoff single from Nick Coomes got things going and LSU loaded the bases with a walk and a bunt single from Hughes. Zach Watson lifted a sacrifice fly to get the Tigers on the board and Duplantis chased Pilkington from the game with a two-out RBI single to left.
Mississippi State coach Gary Henderson brought on former Tulane right-hander JP France to face Bain with two on and two out. France fell behind 3-0 in the count, but Bain swung away and popped up to end the threat.
The Bulldogs quickly re-took control of momentum after escaping with the lead. An infield single put men on the corners with one out, and Allen smoked an RBI single back through the box to get on of the runs back and extend the lead to 4-2.
LSU came right back to tie the game after two singles and a wild pitch put the tying runs in scoring position. Beau Jordan lifted a sacrifice fly to center and Brandt Broussard smoked a two-out RBI single into center field to pull even at 4-4.
“What a clutch hit that was by Brandt Broussard,” Mainieri said. “We got contributions from so many guys tonight. That’s what makes it such a tremendous team win.”
Mainieri announced he’ll start freshman right-hander Ma’Khail Hilliard against Florida on four-day’s rest. The coach wasn’t sure how long Hilliard would be able to go, but Mainieri was elated to give his rookie a chance to pitch against the mighty Gators.