LSU’s Saturday doubleheader disaster loses its SEC series to South Carolina

Having scored just one run on six hits in their first 15 innings at LSU, fifth-ranked South Carolina was three outs away Saturday from losing the three-game SEC series in Alex Box Stadium.

The Gamecocks managed just a run and three hits in Thursday’s 5-1 series-opening loss. After Friday rain forced a Saturday doubleheader of two seven-inning games, South Carolina found itself trailing 2-0 with a mere three hits heading into its final at-bat in the top of the seventh in game two.

And then a volcano erupted that melted any optimism the struggling Tigers had built by winning their last three of four SEC games.

In South Carolina’s next eight innings before it hopped on its charter flight home, it scored 13 unanswered runs on 18 hits including four doubles, a triple and home run in a 4-2 game two win and a 9-0 victory in game three to capture the series.

USC second baseman Braylen Wimmer and center fielder Brady Allen each delivered a two-run double off LSU senior closer Devin Fontenot as the Gamecocks rallied for a soul-crushing game two win, then USC’s first nine hitters hammered game three Tigers’ starting pitcher Blake Money for five runs on five hits in a rout.

“Just an unbelievable effort by our guys,” said South Carolina coach Mark Kingston, whose team improved to 24-8 overall and 10-5 in the SEC East. “It looked very bleak there, you’re on the verge of already losing the series but we found a way.”

LSU led 2-0 after the first two innings in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Then, five South Carolina pitchers threw 14 straight shutout innings limiting the Tigers to seven hits, which were all singles.

“We were this close to winning the series against the No. 5 team in the country,” stunned LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “And it got away from us.”

LSU (21-13, 4-10 SEC West) managed just four hits off three South Carolina pitchers in Saturday’s opening game.

Two of the hits came in the first and second innings when Tigers scored a run in the first on Cade Doughty’s RBI double and a run in the second on second baseman Zach Arnold’s RBI sacrifice fly.

LSU left runners on second and third in the second inning. The Tigers never had a runner reach third base for the remainder of the game off South Carolina starter Brannon Jordan and relievers Andrew Peters and Brett Kerry.

LSU starter A.J. Labas gave up five hits in 6.1 innings, but two of them were singles to David Mendham and Colin Burgess that started South Carolina’s four-run seventh inning. He was charged with giving up two runs when Fontenot allowed Wimmer’s two-RBI game-tying double that LSU right fielder Dylan Crews misjudged in a swirling wind.

“I was getting ahead in the count the first six innings,” Labas said. “The seventh inning came around and I was leaving the ball over the plate and not hitting my spots.”

After USC’s Noah Myers sacrificed Mendham and Burgess to third and second base respectively, Mainieri pulled Labas and inserted Fontenot who Mainieri said “has been pitching so great for us.”

In Fontenot’s previous appearance, a 36-pitch, two-inning outing that closed LSU’s series opening win over the Gamecocks, he struck out the side in the eighth inning. But in the ninth, he hit a batter and walked another before inducing a double-play grounder and then producing a game-inning strikeout.

He wasn’t as fortunate on Saturday. Wimmer tagged Fontenot’s first pitch into right field. Crews took a few steps to his right before realizing the ball was slicing left. He changed direction and tried frantically to get to the ball, but it popped out of his glove as South Carolina tied the game at 2-2.

“I got a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it,” Wimmer said.

After Fontenot hit USC’s George Callil with a pitch, Allen ripped a 2-2 Fontenot pitch down the left field foul line into the corner for what proved to be the game-winning hit.

Even with an hour between games, LSU never seemed to recover from the game two implosion that opened the doubleheader.

“We tried to flush it immediately, not think about it at all,” LSU first baseman Tre’ Morgan said.

Three of South Carolina’s five hits off Money in game three were a two-run homer, an RBI triple and an RBI double.

From there, the Gamecocks’ pitching took care of the rest.

“Everybody we put on the mound today was really good,” Kingston said. “It always starts with pitching. We have power pitching that can really do some great things when they’re throwing strikes and not helping opponents, and they did that today.”

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Ron Higgins

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