LSU coach Paul Mainieri put his faith in the guys who’d been through the proverbial wars before to set the tone for what he himself had proclaimed to be a “must win” game, and a handful of veterans delivered season-saving performances on Senior Day.
Austin Bain cranked a home run to dispel an air of trepidation after another inauspicious start. Beau Jordan had three hits out of the leadoff spot, including the go-ahead knock that put LSU ahead for good.
LSU got a career-high six strong innings from lefty Nick Bush on short notice to stabilize what had been a chaotic weekend for the staff and Daniel Cabrera drove in four runs off the bench as the Tigers pulled away for a 7-3 victory over Alabama in the rubber match at Alex Box Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Bush, making a spot start in place of AJ Labas, who was scratched due to shoulder soreness, showed no ill effects after a pair of rocky relief appearances last weekend. He allowed just two runs (one earned) on five hits and issued only one walk after a night in which LSU handed out 12 free passes.
“It showed me that he hadn’t lost confidence in me,” Bush said. “It does mean a lot to me, but the biggest thing is I can’t lose confidence in myself. Every weekend is a big weekend. I knew today was a really big game for the rest of our season, so I had to come out here and compete the best we could.”
Dropping the series to last-place Alabama (26-27, 7-20 Southeastern Conference) would’ve been a debilitating blow to LSU (31-21, 14-13 SEC) and its NCAA Tournament hopes. Winning the series still probably leaves LSU with work to do heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
“I think we’ve still got a lot of work to do, but we’re still in the fight and can see the finish line,” Mainieri said.
Alabama drew first blood for a third consecutive day thanks to another self-inflicted wound by LSU. A sky-high popup landed between Bain and Brandt Broussard, who was charged with the error, which led to an unearned run.
That deficit didn’t last long. Bain led off the bottom half of the inning with a solo home run to left off Alabama left Garret Rukes. Jordan gave LSU the lead one inning later by reaching out to bloop an RBI single into shallow right field.
“It’s another notch on the belt of what we needed to do,” Bain said. “I felt like we went out there and took care of business today.”
On a day headlined by the veterans, LSU’s hottest underclassmen came off the bench to provide a boost. Senior Day honoree Bryce Jordan got the start at DH, Cabrera took over after one at-bat and went opposite field for a two-run, lefty-on-lefty home run in fifth inning.
Alabama cut into the lead with an opposite field home run from left fielder Keith Holcombe in the sixth, a solo shot that looked like a carbon copy of Cabrera’s blast.
LSU responded again with three runs. Nick Coomes, another senior in the lineup, laced a double to get the inning going. Jake Slaughter scored him with an RBI single to get the run back.
Cabrera then crushed a two-out, two-run double to right that extended the lead to five. The ball appeared to be another poorly-aimed missile off the bat, but it had so much spin and velocity that Alabama right fielder Joe Breaux stumbled going back for the ball and it carried over his head.
“Honestly, off the bat I thought he was going to catch it,” Cabrera said. “I thought it was right at him, but when I saw him stumble I thought, ‘Yes, thank God.’ Score some runs. Those were big.”
Mainieri turned the lead over to freshman Devin Fontenot in the seventh, and the right-hander was excellent yet again. Fontenot fired two scoreless innings without much drama, retiring six of the seven batters he faced.
De facto closer Todd Peterson came on in the ninth inning and gave up two booming extra-base hits, but he locked in from there to get the final three outs.
The Tigers will close out this eight-game homestand against Northwestern State on Tuesday night before finishing the regular season with a difficult SEC West series at Auburn.