No. 22 ranked LSU went to bed Saturday night in Knoxville with a one-run lead over Tennessee as game two of an SEC series was suspended until Sunday noon because of rain and lightning.
And the Tigers couldn’t hold on.
One strike away from an 8-7 win, LSU freshman reliever Ty Floyd gave up a game-tying two-out RBI double to Tennessee clean-up hitter Drew Gilbert in the 9th inning and then Gilbert hit a walkoff solo homer in the 11th for a 9-8 Vols’ victory to win the series.
It’s the first time since 1969 that the Tigers (16-7, 1-4 SEC) lost its first two SEC series of the season by dropping its first two games in each series.
LSU had rallied from a 7-3 sixth-inning deficit Saturday night with two runs in the seventh and three in the eighth sparked by right fielder Dylan Crews solo homer to dead centerfield and two-run homer by left fielder Gavin Dugas.
But the Tigers wouldn’t score again as the game was stopped with LSU coming to bat in the ninth.
From that point when the game resumed Sunday, Tennessee relievers Kirby Connell and Sean Hundley blanked the Tigers, giving up just two hits while striking out five and walking one.
LSU had the go-ahead run at second base in both the 10 and 11th innings, but Connell and Hundley each delivered a rally-killing third out strikeout.
Tigers’ relievers Floyd and Fontenot allowed just three hits and two runs but their four strikeouts were offset by three walks.
The only walk Floyd issued opened the door for 12th ranked Tennessee (20-4, 4-1) to tie the game.
After the Tigers failed to score in the top of the ninth off Connell, LSU coach Paul Mainieri sent Floyd back to the mound in the UT ninth after Floyd used 14 pitches Saturday night to retire the Vols in the eighth inning.
Floyd issued a one-out walk to Tennessee designated hitter Pete Derkay after Floyd had Derkey at an 0-2 count. Christian Scott entered as a pinch-runner and advanced to second base on a ground out by UT’s Jake Rucker.
Gilbert immediately fell behind 0-2 in the count, then fouled off two pitches before he slapped the ball towards the right field corner to score Scott for an 8-8 tie. Floyd recovered with an inning-ending strikeout of UT right fielder Jordan Beck.
LSU sent four batters to the plate in its 10th against Connell, who struck out catcher Jake Wyeth and right fielder Dylan Crews, then gave up a double to first baseman Tre’ Morgan before third baseman Cade Doughty struck out to end the inning.
Floyd was pulled with one out in the Tennessee 10th after catcher Conner Pavolony’s hot ground ball became an infield single that Doughty couldn’t field.
LSU veteran closer Fontenot entered and walked second baseman Max Ferguson sending Pavolony to second base representing the winning fun. Fontenot recorded the second out with strikeout of UT left fielder Evan Russell but then Fontenot walked Vols’ shortstop Liam Spence to load the bases.
That brought Scott to the plate, a .200 hitter who scored the game-tying run in the ninth as a pinch-runner. Scott nubbed a 1-2 pitch back to Fontenot who tossed the ball to Morgan for the rally-killing third out.
After LSU left fielder Gavin Dugas flied out to right to open the 11th, there were two straight umpire replay reviews. The Tigers won the first and lost the second.
Designated hitter Cade Beloso was hit on his hand by a Connell pitch, but home plate umpire Cedric Coleman didn’t agree. He changed the call after the replay.
Then, second baseman Collier Cranford sacrificed Beloso to second base and Cranford was called out after appearing to beat the throw. Mainieri asked for a replay and lost the appeal.
Will Sanford entered as a pinch-runner as Tennessee changed pitchers, inserting Hundley who had already thrown two scoreless innings to close out the Vols’ 3-1 Friday night game one victory.
Hundley immediately walked center fielder Drew Bianco, but he and Sanford were left stranded when shortstop Jordan Thompson struck out to end the inning.
LSU wouldn’t get another chance. After Rucker led off the Vols’ 11th, Gilbert hit a solo homer that hit on top or just behind the fence. It was waved as a home run by umpires, but Mainieri immediately protested.
After an extended review, Gilbert’s hit was indeed a homer and Tennessee had won the series.
Game 3, which started 30 minutes after the end of game two, is supposed to be just seven innings because of travel issues for LSU.