Raph Rhymes shines as LSU holds off Tulane

Raph Rhymes dropped a spot in the LSU batting order Wednesday. He looked right at home.

Batting fifth for the first time this season Rhymes went 3-for-4, including a tie-breaking two-run single in the sixth inning as the Tigers defeated Tulane 4-3 Wednesday night in Alex Box Stadium.

Rhymes came up for the first time with one out in the second inning and lined a single to right field. He had a virtual carbon-copy hit to lead off the fifth. Both hits were reminiscent of Rhymes hitting the other way as he did with uncanny regularity last season, when he was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year after leading the nation with a school-record .431 batting average.

“That’s beautiful to see,” said Mason Katz, who swapped places with Rhymes in the batting order. “When he’s hitting like that it’s the prettiest thing to see — line drives to right field all day. That’s what he’s like when he’s at his best.

“We’ve seen glimpses of it. That’s what we’re used to from Raph. It’s fun when he hits like that.”

Rhymes raised his average to .338.

“The situations came up where my team needed me, and I came through,” Rhymes said. “That’s what I’m here to do. Coach worked with me during batting practice and it carried over into the game. He said I had lost some aggressiveness from last season, so I came out swinging.”

LSU (38-4) begins a Southeastern Conference series against South Carolina at 7 p.m. Friday in Alex Box. Tulane (20-21) begins a Conference USA series at Marshall on Friday.

The Tigers have won 25 consecutive games against Louisiana schools and 32 consecutive midweek games.

Tulane took a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth before starter Randy LeBlanc (2-3) tired in the bottom half. After one out, Mark Laird walked, Alex Bregman singled and Katz walked, loading the bases and finishing LeBlanc.

Reliever Andrew Reeves threw a wild pitch to tie the score, then yielded a two-run single to Rhymes.

“Hindsight is always 20-20,” Green Wave coach Rick Jones said, “but we felt like at that point in the game, Randy started to lose some of his command, and we were hoping to try and get someone in there to get the ball down.

“Andrew has showed a great sinker that we’ve seen in intra-squads, and we thought that we might see that pitch to get us out of the inning, but it didn’t work out.”

Rhymes had nearly half of the Tigers’ seven hits, and he had two-thirds of their RBIs.

“This guy last year was the player of the year in the SEC and he had so many clutch hits for us,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. “It was just a matter of time.”

The Green Wave got within 4-3 on Bowen Woodson’s RBI single in the eighth, but Nick Rumeblow got Tucker Oakley to ground out with runners on first and second.

Joey Bourgeois relieved to start the ninth and retired the leadoff hitter before Chris Cotton came in and got the next two batters to gain his ninth save.

Earlier in the day, Cotton, the ninth pitcher used by Mainieri, was one of 51 players named to the mid-season watch list for the ninth annual National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award, which is given to the top relief pitcher in Division I baseball.

“They just had too many bullets in the bullpen,” Jones said.

LSU broke a scoreless tie with a run in the fifth, but Tulane came right back with two in the sixth.

Hunter Devall relieved to start the inning and hit Brennan Boudreaux leading off, then walked Garrett Cannizaro. Kevin Berry relieved and Sean Potkay sacrificed.

Andrew Garner hit a line drive to left, and Rhymes froze for a second, then jumped — but the ball got over him for a two-run double.

Berry (3-0) got the last two outs then retired Tulane in order in the seventh and lowered his ERA to 0.73.

“It’s fun to get in there in games that are close like that instead of us being up by eight runs in a midweek game,” Berry said. “The atmosphere was the type we have on the weekend.

“The midweek games are an opportunity to get some consistent work in for most of the bullpen and keep us sharp.”

Tigers starter Kurt McCune had his fourth consecutive scoreless outing as he allowed just a single in two innings. He had pitched one, two and two scoreless innings in previous outings after giving up two runs in three innings during his season debut April 9 against Southern.

Brent Bonvillain relieved McCune and threw two scoreless innings, allowing a single and a walk. Will LaMarche pitched a scoreless fifth, walking two and striking out two.

LeBlanc held the Tigers scoreless through four, allowing just one single.

Rhymes started the fifth with his second single and Christian Ibarra sent him to third with a hit-and-run single. After Tyler Moore struck out, Ty Ross’ grounded to short on a slow roller that brought home Rhymes for a 1-0 lead.