Tigers locked in five-way tie for fourth place in SEC
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
The rally LSU desperately needed to salvage its weekend series with Mississippi State began innocently enough with a popup that didn’t travel 70 feet off the bat of Jake Fraley.
Fraley reached with LSU’s first hit as the baseball fell harmlessly between three Bulldogs to begin the fourth inning. It sparked a four-run rally that turned a 3-0 deficit into LSU’s first lead of the weekend.
“When I look back, that’s probably going to be one of my best hits at LSU,” Fraley grinned.
Bryce Jordan and Kramer Robertson both homered and combined for five RBI as LSU slugged its way to 11 runs on 10 hits over a span of three innings. The LSU bullpen divvied up 6.2 innings of relief to hang on for the 11-8 win and avoid being swept at Alex Box Stadium on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon.
“Great character out of our team to fall behind again after losing the first two games of the weekend,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Not get their dobbers down and keep battling, and they did. They played hard all weekend and I’m really proud of them.”
“We’ve been like that the whole way,” Bryce Jordan said of his team’s resiliency. “I love the fight in this team and I love how we just never give up.”
Bulldog lefty Konnor Pilkington had a no-hitter going before Fraley’s pop found grass just beyond the reach of his outstretched glove. Beau Jordan followed with a single to right, and Jordan Romero put LSU on the board by scalding an RBI double just inside the bag at third base.
Kramer Robertson and Greg Deichmann tied the games with successive grounders, but the latter reached on an error by second baseman Hunter Stovall. The misplay extended the inning for Cole Freeman to put LSU ahead for the first time with an RBI single back through the box.
“We knew coming into today it was going to be a good day to hit,” Robertson said. “It’s hot and the wind is blowing out a little bit. We knew we were probably going to have to put up a lot of runs. We spotted them three, but luckily, we were able to respond with four.”
LSU (27-13, 10-8 SEC) went back to work against the Bulldog bullpen in the fifth. After two quick outs, Romero and Robertson lined back-to-back doubles to extend the lead to 5-3. John Cohen went back to the bullpen for flamethrower Zac Houston to face Bryce Jordan after a walk to Deichmann.
Houston jumped 0-2 with three successive 94 mph fastballs, but his 1-2 offering stayed out over the plate and Bryce Jordan deposited it into the left-field grandstands. He admired the majestic blast until it settled into a pocket of gold in the bleachers.
“I was battling and battling, waiting for him to leave a fastball out over the middle of the plate,” Jordan said. “And once he did, I used his speed to barrel the ball up and the rest happened.”
The furious comeback may not have been enough if it weren’t for the efforts of Russell Reynolds out of the bullpen.
Mississippi State (27-12-1, 10-8 SEC) chased starter John Valek III with three runs after just 2.1 innings — his shortest outing of the season. Reynolds entered the game and retired the first two men he faced to strand a runner in scoring position.
“It’s basically keep the score where it is or do your best to,” said Reynolds, who credits his recent surge on a mechanical adjustment made by Alan Dunn. “Try to build some momentum so our offense can take over and put some runs on the board.”
Pounding the zone with his fastball, the big right-hander then worked around a one-out single in the fourth to hold the deficit at three at put up an all-important shutdown inning after LSU took a one-run lead into the fifth, a performance that netted him the win in relief.
“I think he already has worked his way into a bigger role,” Mainieri said. “He’s becoming a vital guy for us.”
Mississippi State tried to hit its way back into the game in the sixth. Mainieri went to Caleb Gilbert to face the bottom of the order, but the freshman was pulled after 1/3 of an inning in favor of Parker Bugg after allowing an RBI double to Stovall.
Bugg allowed a first-pitch RBI single to Jake Mangum but escaped the inning with the lead in tact thanks to an all-world play from Chris Reid at third base. The freshman made a sliding backhanded stop behind the bag, popped to his feet and made the long throw across the diamond.
“Today was a much more crisp day for us, and we needed it,” Mainieri said of his team’s defense.
LSU came right back with three runs in the bottom half of the inning to re-extend the lead. Fraley cranked an RBI triple to score Antoine Duplantis and then came home when Romero grounded into a 1-4-3 double play.
Robertson ambushed reliever James Keegan’s next offering and yanked his second career home run (first since 2014) just inside the foul pole down the left field line.
“I was just hoping it would stay fair and stay true,” Robertson said. “I knew that if it stayed fair it would get over.”
Things got dicey again for the LSU bullpen in the eighth as Jesse Stallings entered and allowed three of the four men he faced to reach base, all of which would come around to score.
The Bulldogs got the tying runs on base against Hunter Newman with two outs, but LSU’s resilient closer battled through some command trouble to retire Elih Marrero on a lazy fly to center and leave the bases loaded.
While LSU failed to add insurance runs in the eighth, Newman returned and worked a scoreless ninth to seal the result.
LSU will be back in action on Tuesday night as the Tigers travel to New Orleans to complete its home-and-home with Tulane.