LSU baseball wins twice to claim SEC West title

Bryan-College Station Eagle photo by STUART VILLANUEVA -- Texas A&M's Hunter Melton is out at second as LSU's JaCoby Jones turns a double play to end the sixth inning of Saturday's game. The Tigers won, 2-1, and clinched the Southeastern Conference Western Division title.
Bryan-College Station Eagle photo by STUART VILLANUEVA -- Texas A&M's Hunter Melton is out at second as LSU's JaCoby Jones turns a double play to end the sixth inning of Saturday's game. The Tigers won, 2-1, and clinched the Southeastern Conference Western Division title.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — In a series when virtually nothing went according to plan, the LSU baseball team came away with exactly what it had hoped for: a second consecutive Southeastern Conference West Division championship.

On Thursday and Friday, the Tigers spent more time waiting out weather delays (four hours, 36 minutes) than playing baseball (4:11), but everything worked out on a sunny Saturday at Blue Bell Park.

LSU held off Texas A&M 7-4 in the continuation of a game that was suspended after six innings Friday, then came back to score the tie-breaking run in the eighth inning to edge the Aggies 2-1 in a game that was scheduled for seven.

“We had some weird games this weekend with the rain, but we battled,” said catcher Ty Ross, who started the winning rally with a leadoff double. “We came back this morning and got that huge win and carried that momentum into the second game.”

The Tigers (45-7, 21-6) wrapped up a first-round bye in the SEC tournament in two weeks. The Aggies, who won the rain-delayed series opener 2-1 on Thursday, fell to 27-24 and 11-15.

“Well, that’s the first championship of the year for us,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.

Chris Cotton (3-1) pitched a perfect ninth to get his 11th save in the first game and threw 1.1 scoreless innings to win the second.

“I was just put in the right position today to do that,” said Cotton, who needed just seven pitches to get the save, enabling Mainieri to bring him back less than four hours later. “I had to be ready for the next game, and I wanted to be.”

Cotton entered the second game with the Aggies poised to win in the seventh, inheriting runners on first and second with one out from starter Ryan Eades. He threw one pitch, and Mikey Reynolds grounded his changeup to third base, where Christian Ibarra started an inning-ending double play.

“I had to hold those runners,” Cotton said. “Ryan did such a great job, I couldn’t let it end.”

Eades limited A&M to one run in 6.1 innings, but he yielded eight hits and one walk and hit two batters. He never had a conventional 1-2-3 inning, but he did face the minimum in the second after picking off a runner and in the sixth thanks to a double play.

“I’m just trying to make quality pitches when guys are in scoring position and keep the ball down and really think about what I need to do and then make it happen,” Eades said. “I know I’m capable of getting out of jams. I just try to keep my composure, take a deep breath and execute pitches.”

Ross led off the eighth with a double against Aggies closer Jason Jester (2-3), who entered with one out in the sixth, and pinch runner Jared Foster moved to third as Andrew Stevenson beat out a bunt.

Sean McMullen, who had four hits and a walk in the suspended game, followed with a fly ball to right that enabled Foster to score easily.

The Aggies tied the score with a two-out rally against Eades in the fourth. Daniel Mengden reached on an infield hit when he hit a roller to shortstop, and he advanced to second when Alex Bregman mishandled the ball. After Eades hit Brandon Wood with a pitch, Krey Bratsen singled home Mengden.

That’s all A&M could get against Eades despite having two runners in scoring position in the first, one in the third and another in the fifth.

“Every inning we’ve got guys on base, people in scoring position, then he just makes some big pitches,” Mainieri said. “I’ve just come to accept that that’s the way it’s going to be with Ryan. You’re just not going to have 1-2-3 innings very often.

“Thank goodness the kid has got something about him that he can raise his game to another level. I’d much rather have a kid like that than somebody who just dominates sometimes and then, when things start going bad, he falls apart.”

In the third, Ross drew a leadoff walk, and Stevenson and McMullen singled to load the bases against A&M starter Parker Ray. Stevenson got picked off second before Mark Laird singled home Ross for a 1-0 lead.

That was the Tigers’ first run of the day after watching the 7-2 lead they had entering the seventh inning of the suspended game shrink.

Mainieri planned to get two innings out of Joey Bourgeois in relief of Aaron Nola (10-0) and finish a victory without having to use Cotton, but it didn’t work out that way.

Bourgeois gave up two runs and had two runners on base and the tying run at the plate when he gave way to Nick Rumbelow with one out in the eighth. Rumbelow got Mengden, the winning pitcher Thursday who homered as the designated hitter against Bourgeois in the seventh, to hit a double play to end the eighth.

“It got a little bit hairy there and didn’t go quite the way we were hoping it would go,” Mainieri said. “But Rumbelow came in and got the big double play on the kid that had hit the home run. He was the tying run at the plate, so that was obviously a huge out.

“Cotton came in and just pitched tremendous and showed great poise in the ninth inning and did what he needed to do for us.”