e_SDLqIt was also frustrating when I’d get the first two guys out and then give up a hit. I left the ball up. I didn’t make good two-strike pitches. I didn’t make them chase.” Aaron Nola, LSU pitcher
Right-hander Aaron Nola started a day earlier than normal, catcher Ty Ross was a late scratch because of an emergency appendectomy, and the LSU baseball team seemed discombobulated the whole night as Vanderbilt prevailed 6-3 on Saturday in Alex Box Stadium.
The Commodores stole five bases and took advantage of two wild pitches, an error and a balk by the Tigers, who stranded nine base runners, six in scoring position, and hit into four double plays.
Even Raph Rhymes seemed out of sorts as he went 0-for-4, ending his 16-game hitting streak and his 30-game streak of having reached base. His NCAA-leading batting average dropped to .486. He hit into two double plays and struck out once.
“I wasn’t worried about the streak, I don’t even know what they are,” Rhymes said. “All good things have to end some time. I’m more worried about the loss, because it hurts more.”
Vanderbilt evened the series at one victory apiece going into the finale at 1 p.m. Sunday. LSU (39-12, 17-9 in Southeastern Conference play) remained tied with South Carolina but fell a half-game behind Kentucky for the overall conference lead. The Commodores are 25-25 and 12-14 as they try to win their fifth consecutive series against the Tigers.
“We never could find our rhythm,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We were on our heels the whole night. We didn’t have a 1-2-3 inning (defensively) until the ninth inning. We couldn’t get big hits. It was not our night.”
Nola (6-3), the Sunday starter who swapped turns in the rotation with struggling Ryan Eades, worked his way into and out of trouble in every inning. He gave up a two-out double to Anthony Gomez in the first, then picked him off.
In the second, he gave up back-to-back one-out singles to Connor Harrell and Spencer Navin, then got Connor Castellano to ground out and struck out Vince Conde.
He gave up a leadoff single to Tony Kemp, who then stole second, in the third. One out later, Gomez singled home Kemp for a 1-0 lead. Nola hit Conrad Gregor with a pitch but got out of it by striking out Harrell.
Nola pitched around one-out singles in the fourth and fifth even though Mike Yastrzemski stole second and third before Nola struck out Gregor to end the fifth.
The Commodores scored two and finished Nola during a sloppy sixth for the Tigers. With one out, Nola hit Navin, who stole second. Castellano beat out a grounder to short, and Austin Nola’s throwing error on the play allowed Navin to score and Castellano to reach second.
Conde hit a grounder to Nola, who threw to third to try to get Castellano, who was ruled safe on a very close play as Conde reached. Jack Lupo bunted up the first-base line and reached, as Nola fielded the ball but had no one to throw to after first baseman Tyler Moore charged toward the ball and second baseman JaCoby Jones couldn’t get over in time.
That made it 3-0 and finished Nola. Brent Bonvillain came in and got consecutive groundouts from Kemp and Yastrzemski to prevent any more scoring.
“We had some bad luck in that last inning I pitched,” Aaron Nola said.
“It was also frustrating when I’d get the first two guys out and then give up a hit. I left the ball up. I didn’t make good two-strike pitches. I didn’t make them chase.”
The Tigers ended an 11-inning scoring drought but didn’t take full advantage of its opportunity in the sixth. Vandy starter Sam Selman seemed to tire as he walked Austin Nola and Mason Katz on 3-2 pitches to start the inning.
That brought on reliever Drew VerHagen, who got Rhymes to ground into his second double play as Nola took third. Jordy Snikeris beat out a slow roller up the third-base line to make it 3-1, but pinch hitter Grant Dozar struck out.
LSU helped Vandy out some more in the seventh. Gomez led off with a single and Bonvillain balked him to second and moved him to third on a wild pitch. Bonvillain walked Gregor, and Joey Bourgeois relieved. Bourgeois walked Harrell, then threw a wild pitch that brought home Gomez for a 4-1 lead.
The Commodores added two run off Bourgeois in the eighth. Kemp walked with one out, stole second and scored on Gomez’s two-out double, his fourth hit of the game. Gregor singled home Gomez.
Moore’s two-run single got LSU within 6-3 in the eighth, but Tyler Hanover grounded out, stranding two runners, continuing one of the night’s themes.
Arby Fields walked to lead off the bottom of the first, and one out later Katz singled him to third, but Rhymes hit into an inning-ending double play.
The Tigers squandered a prime scoring opportunity in the fifth. Hanover ripped a one-out double to right-center and advanced to third on Jones’ line single to center. On a hit-and-run, Fields struck out swinging as Jones was thrown at second. He looked like he had a chance to beat the throw, but his pop-up slide left him short of the bag.
It was that kind of night for the Tigers.