They’ve spent most of LSU’s remarkable baseball season as spectators, but on one topsy-turvy Saturday they were the ones in the spotlight, being cheered on by the players they usually watch from the bench.
With the series clinched Saturday night with a 5-4 victory over Ole Miss, coach Paul Mainieri vowed to turn an essentially meaningless regular-season finale into a useful reward for his seldom-used players.
They lost to the Rebels 11-9 but gained something as well: experience that could come back to pay dividends in the postseason.
“These young guys have worked so hard,” said designated hitter Alex Edward, one of eight seniors recognized before Saturday’s game. “It’s great to see it pay off in a game.
“We haven’t played in a while, and we got an opportunity today. It speaks to our depth.”
Even if their regular starters played, the Tigers (48-8, 23-7 Southeastern Conference) looked like they were up against a tough assignment in Ole Miss right-handed starter Bobby Wahl.
One of the top pitchers in the SEC, Wahl came in with a 9-0 record and 1.43 earned run average. Against seven ranked opponents he was even better, posting a 4-0 record with a 1.14 ERA and a .163 batting average against.
Against the Tigers, though, the Rebels’ ace lasted just 2.2 innings as LSU sent 11 men to the plate in the third and plated seven runs.
Senior shortstop Casey Yocom was the chief instigator, capping the inning with a two-run single to right off reliever Chris Ellis after greeting Wahl with a single earlier in the inning.
Yocom would have another RBI single in the sixth as he finished 4-for-5, just the seventh four-hit game for an LSU player this season and the first of Yocom’s college career.
“He (Mainieri) gave us a heads up (Saturday) night that the guys who don’t usually start would be in there today and to just be ready,” Yocom said.
The seven-run third “was one of the funnest things I’ve been part of the last two years here. Everyone was contributing. The starters were on the bench getting behind us. It was pretty cool.”
Yocom came into the game with just five hits this season. In one day, he raised his season average from .217 to .321.
“It gives me a lot of confidence to get four hits,” the Reno, Nev., native said. “Hopefully, I can continue to help the team. But it doesn’t matter to me as long as we win.”
Seniors Raph Rhymes and Mason Katz were the only two regular starters to begin the game, sent out 1-2 in the lineup. After both got an at-bat and retook the field for the second inning, they each came off to standing ovations, Rhymes was replaced by Andrew Stevenson and Katz was replaced by Nate Fury.
“It’s been a dream come true to play here,” Rhymes said. “I get to play in front of these great fans. It was pretty cool to get a standing ovation and meet my buddy Mason halfway. Pretty special.”
Fury, who pitched an inning in relief of Friday starting pitcher Kurt McCune, replaced Katz and went 2-for-4 in his first at-bats since junior college.
“Coach (Mainieri) texted me and told me to call him,” Fury recalled. “He said, ‘When was the last time you hit?’ I said, ‘Really? Probably two years ago.’ He wanted to have Mason come off to an ovation, so it was cool replacing him.”