HOOVER, Ala. — The blinding fog dissipated and LSU’s unlikely run through the Southeastern Conference marches on.
Unplayable conditions halted an in-progress rout of self-destructing Florida with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning at 11:32 p.m. Friday night.
Devin Fontenot woke up early to get the final three outs after LSU tacked on another run to finish off Florida 11-0 in seven innings by virtue of the mercy rule. The Tigers will now advance to take on Arkansas in a single-elimination semifinal game later on Saturday.
“Well this certainly gives us a great story to talk about for years to come,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “You ever been involved in a fog delay before? Get back to the hotel at 12:30 a.m. and up for a 7 a.m. pregame meal. I can’t tell you how proud I am of the guys. They handled it like pros. No excuses, they just did what they had to do and I didn’t hear an ounce of complaining.”
The game suspension only served to delay an emphatic beat down that began the night prior. LSU entered the game as a pitching-beleaguered underdog only to shut out the defending champs with a trio of middle relievers.
Right-hander Matt Beck started and gave LSU more than it could have honestly dreamed of despite constantly working himself into tough situations.
Beck put men on base in each of his four innings, but he stranded eight runners to post four zeroes on the scoreboard. He allowed three hits and issued four walks, but Florida went hitless in seven at-bats against him with runners in scoring position.
“Coach always talks about pitching with poise in big situations,” Beck said. “Good or bad, you just want to have poise. You want to show your guys that you have the confidence to execute pitches. That’s what I did, and that’s what I was able to do.”
Antoine Duplantis led the way offensively for LSU with three RBI on a pair of clutch knocks, but most of the other runs came courtesy of shoddy defense from a Florida team that appeared eager to go home and prepare for the NCAA Tournament.
Duplantis got LSU on the board in the third inning by roping an RBI double to right-center field with two outs off Florida starter Jack Leftwich. LSU was then gifted two more runs when SEC Player of the Year Jonathan India threw the ball away on a routine play one batter later.
Cam Sanders took over to begin the fifth inning and picked up right where he left off against Florida on Tuesday night. Sanders went the final two innings and allowed one hit while striking out four.
“If you told me before the game that Beck and Sanders would shut out the No. 1 team for six innings, I probably would’ve had a tough time believing you,” Mainieri said. “But Matthew made some big pitches when he needed to and Cam was electric.”
The wheels completely fell off for the Gators in the sixth, and LSU was more than willing to reap the benefits.
Daniel Cabrera singled to get the inning going and scored on a wild pitch. Zach Watson, who then reached on an error, then scored on a pass ball. Hunter Feduccia walked and scored on India’s second error of the night and fourth in as many games against LSU.
Smelling the mercy rule within reach, Duplantis sliced a two-run single through the left side to increase the lead to 9-0. A Cabrera popup got lost in the fog to bring in run No. 10, but that precipitated the umpiring crew pulling both teams off the field.
“With the quality of their arms, you take the runs any way you can get them against these guys, I promise ya,” Mainieri said. “That’s what makes Florida so good. They just have power arm after power arm, and when you’re fortunate enough to put the ball in play, they usually catch it. LSU and Florida have always been two of the best defensive teams in the league … I’m not embarrassed. I’ll take the runs any way we can get them.”
The game resumed with Watson slamming an RBI single off the glove of India. Fontenot allowed a leadoff single in the top of the seventh but struck out the next three Gators in order to make it a short morning.
LSU will give the ball to Zack Hess for the semifinal against Arkansas, Mainieri announced. Lefty Nick Bush will also be available to pitch in relief, but the coach admitted to being shorthanded in terms of options beyond that.
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