Tigers storm back to top Commodores

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For a while, Andrew Stevenson looked like the old Andrew Stevenson.

Ha. He was just teasing.

Stevenson, the LSU center fielder who batted .193 last season, kept alive his improbable hitting streak in the most ridiculous way.

His two-out, bases-loaded, two-run single in the eighth inning drove in the go-ahead runs Friday night at Vanderbilt, and the Tigers poured on two more in the frame to storm back and beat the Commodores 4-2 in a wild Southeastern Conference opener at a sold-out Hawkins Field.

What pitching duel?

Stevenson stole the spotlight from the primetime mound matchup of LSU’s Aaron Nola and Vanderbilt’s Tyler Beede, a pair of projected first-round picks in this summer’s draft.

Stevenson extended his hitting streak to 16 games — and for the second straight game, he kept it alive with an eighth-inning shot — as LSU (17-2), down 1-0, roared back with that four-run eighth to stun the Commodores (16-3).

“That was fun to be a part of,” a smiling Stevenson said afterward.

Stevenson, normally a bottom-of-the-order guy, batted in the leadoff spot Friday in the absence of Sean McMullen, who was sidelined with a gluteal muscle injury. His status for Saturday is uncertain.

Stevenson had struck out three times before his big hit, looking more like the guy last season that was woeful struggled at the plate.

Then came that fastball from Vanderbilt’s sidearm reliever Brian Miller.

He ripped the 2-1 pitch for a chopping single up the middle to give LSU a 2-1 lead.

“I told the players after the game, ‘This is the greatest thing about baseball ... you always get another chance,’ ” coach Paul Mainieri said. “You look at a guy like Stevenson, who stroke out his first three times and comes up with the bases loaded to win the game for his team and he comes through.

“He’ll remember things like that for the rest of his life, no matter what curveballs life will throw him.”

Stevenson added: “It was exciting. Everyone was kind of counting on me for that.”

All four of LSU’s runs in the eighth inning were unearned. Vanderbilt third baseman Xavier Turner threw off of the bag at first on a hard-hit grounder down the line by freshman Jake Fraley, a pinch-hitter for Chris Chinea.

Vandy first baseman Zander Wiel attempted a tag but Fraley was ruled safe.

It loaded the bases.

The out would have ended the inning.

“You can see how his speed put pressure on their infielder,” Mainieri said of Fraley. “It was a huge play.”

Before his hit down the line, Fraley barely caught a portion of the ball on a two-strike swing that would have also ended the inning.

Christian Ibarra singled and Tyler Moore walked before Fraley’s shot on a full count.

It all set up Stevenson’s smacking grounder up the gut, a shot that elicited an eruption from the LSU bullpen and chats of “L-S-U” from around Hawkins Field.

Two more runs scored on an error by second baseman Dansby Swanson, who couldn’t handle a high hopper from the speedy Mark Laird.

“I just rushed myself a little bit,” Swanson said afterward. “I need to make that play to help the team out, but I wasn’t able to do that tonight.”

Nola, meanwhile, watched the eighth unfold from the LSU dugout.

“It was exciting,” he said. “Hitting in the clutch is going to win us a lot of games.”

Zac Person got the win. He replaced Nola in the seventh and struck out one in his only batter faced.

Parker Bugg allowed a run and a hit and struck out two, and Joe Broussard got the save. He struck out the final two batters of the game.

“What a game,” Mainieri said. “I’ve been coaching here at LSU for eight years. That was as classic a game, great come-from-behind victory that I can ever remember.”

LSU and Vanderbilt meet at 2:15 Saturday and Sunday’s game is slated for 1. There is a heavy chance of rain Sunday. Mainieri and Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin discussed playing a doubleheader on Saturday. It looks unlikely. Vanderbilt has an artificial turf infield.

The more than 3,600 on hand got to see an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel between two big-league arms.

Nola matched his career high with 12 strikeouts and Beede had seven himself as the two-hard-throwing righties rarely offered anything below the 90-mph mark.

There were 75 scouts in the stands, a Vanderbilt spokesman said.

Through the first seven innings, Beede didn’t allow a runner to reach second safely.

At one point, Beede, a Massachusetts native whose dad lives in Metairie, retired 11 straight batters, ending with Ibarra’s single in that eighth inning.

He then walked Moore and was replaced with Miller.

Nola struck out six of nine batters before Mainieri yanked him after he issued a two-out walk in the seventh inning.

Nola’s streak of 54 innings without allowing an earned run ended in the second. He allowed three hits and hit a batter through the first two frames.

He had the bases loaded with no outs in the second and gave up just the one run.

“I got myself in a couple of jams my first couple of innings and I found it. I found all of my stuff,” he said.

Stevenson, meanwhile, recovered from his three strikeouts to help deliver a comeback win and extend an unexpected streak.

“Team needs me. There was no time to feel sorry for myself here,” he said of the at-bat. “Wasn’t the best three at-bats I’ve had of my career. I just tried to put all of that aside. This at-bat counts. Had to do what I had to do.”