Eades, Katz, Laird shine as LSU grabs 21st victory

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU left fielder Raph Rhymes slides safely into home as Auburn catcher Blake Austin waits for the throw during Saturday's game at Alex Box Stadium. LSU won, 5-1.
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU left fielder Raph Rhymes slides safely into home as Auburn catcher Blake Austin waits for the throw during Saturday's game at Alex Box Stadium. LSU won, 5-1.

Eades shines; Katz notches two RBIs; LSU grabs 21st victory

LSU right-hander Ryan Eades needed just six starts to get five victories and match his win total from last season.

Eades (5-0) limited Auburn to one run on seven hits in 6.2 innings as LSU prevailed 5-1 on Saturday night in Alex Box Stadium. Eades, who was 5-3 last season, walked two and struck out four.

“I thought that was one of Ryan’s better performances,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said of Eades, whose ERA now stands at 1.63. “He was outstanding and really the key to the ballgame.”

No. 3 LSU, which beat Auburn 9-4 on Friday, clinched a baseball series win against Auburn for the first time in four years. The series finale is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday.

LSU is now 21-2 overall, matching the 1997 team’s school record for a 23-game start, and 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference.

Auburn is 15-8 and 0-5.

Mason Katz doubled home two runs; Alex Bregman extended his hit streak to 11 games, drove in a run and had his second consecutive and fifth three-hit game of the season; and Raph Rhymes hit a sacrifice fly.

Mark Laird, who had just two hits in his past 20 at-bats entering Saturday’s game, went 2-for-4 for his first multi-hit game since March 13. He was hit by a pitch and scored three times.

“I wasn’t being selective enough,” Laird said of his slump. “I’ve been settling in and looking at more pitches and swinging at the good ones.”

LSU, which took a 3-0 lead in the first inning Friday, struck early again.

With one out in the first, Laird was hit by a pitch, and one out later, Rhymes singled him to third. Katz doubled both of them home for a 2-0 lead. The lead grew to 3-0 in the third when Laird led off with a single, Bregman followed with a single and Rhymes hit a sacrifice fly.

Laird’s speed triggered a two-run rally with two outs in the fourth. He hit a roller to first baseman Garrett Cooper and beat Cooper’s throw to pitcher Michael O’Neal (4-2) at the bag. Laird stole second and came home on Bregman’s single to left.

Bregman, who went to second on the throw home, came around to score when second baseman Jordan Ebert misplayed Rhymes’ grounder for an error.

“We have two out and nobody and two strikes to Laird, so the inning is seemingly over,” Mainieri said, “and then his hustle and his speed create a two-run rally for us.”

Bregman is 24-for-49 during his hit streak, and he has raised his batting average to a team-best .408. Katz and Rhymes have combined for nine RBIs in the series.

“I’m just trying to do whatever I can to get on base, and if I need to use my legs to do that, so be it,” Laird said. “Bregman has been on fire behind me, and Raph and Mason are getting big hits.”

Eades got out of some trouble in the fifth, preserving a 5-1 lead. Nick Rumbelow relieved him in the seventh and got a pop-up to end another Auburn threat.

“I got myself in some jams, but I was able to make some pitches and minimize damage,” Eades said. “I’m just trying to keep the same approach and move forward. The main thing is I’m trying to be consistent and go as deep as I can in ballgames.”

Mainieri said he debated whether to pull Eades after the sixth, but decided to let him go batter by batter in the seventh. When Eades’ pitch count hit 115, he decided that was enough — especially because he could give Rumbelow another chance after he gave up a hit and two walks in one-third of an inning Friday.

Joey Bourgeois pitched a scoreless eighth, getting out of a bases-loaded jam with a double-play grounder.

“The best thing you can get there is a double play,” Bourgeois said. “(Pitching coach Alan Dunn) called for a two-seam fastball, which is pretty much a double-play pitch. It ran off the plate, he got weak contact and we turned it.”

Chris Cotton pitched the ninth. Auburn finished 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

“I thought we gave ourselves plenty of opportunities, we just weren’t able to come up with something,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “I was hoping someone could find a hole and we could score some runs but it didn’t happen.”

LSU stranded 12 runners to Auburn’s 10.

“On one hand I’m really proud of our team because I think they show remarkable poise and composure when things get difficult,” Mainieri said. “That’s a quality of a great club, a championship team.

“I just wish once in a while we’d bust a game open. It might give us a chance to save a couple of games in the bullpen — and save a couple of years on the coach’s life.”