Top-seeded Tigers win with No. 1 battery
HOOVER, Ala. — LSU had its No. 1 pitcher on the mound, its No. 1 catcher back behind the plate and suddenly looked like the No. 1 seed in the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.
Kevin Gausman (10-1) threw seven strong innings as Ty Ross caught him in his first action behind the plate since undergoing an emergency appendectomy 12 days earlier, and the Tigers bounced back from an opening loss to defeat Ole Miss 11-2 Thursday at Regions Park.
Ross also had two hits and two RBIs as LSU matched its season-high for hits (17) and margin of victory in an SEC game this season. The Tigers (43-15) will play another elimination game at 3 p.m. Friday when they meet seventh-seeded Mississippi State, which LSU them into the losers bracket with a 3-2 victory Wednesday.
The Bulldogs (36-22) lost to Kentucky 5-1 later Thursday. Ole Miss (35-24) was eliminated.
Gausman, who had complete-game victories in his past two starts, held the Rebels to seven hits and two runs. He left after LSU scored five runs in the top of the eighth to take a 9-2 lead. Chris Cotton pitched a perfect eighth and Kurt McCune pitched a scoreless ninth.
The Tigers improved to 14-1 in games that Gausman has started this season.
“What you have to guard against is taking it for granted,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We just needed to get him some runs and play great defense behind him. We had a few good things happen early in the game, but we also squandered some opportunities. I was just hoping it wasn’t going to bite us.”
The Tigers staked Gausman to a 2-0 lead before he took to the mound as Tyler Moore hit a sacrifice fly and Ross had an RBI single in the top of the first against Ole Miss starter Tanner Bailey (2-2). It was just Ross’ second at-bat since the surgery as he struck out as a pinch hitter to end Wednesday’s loss.
“That got the first at-bat out of the way,” Ross said of his cameo Wednesday. “I was very confident. Once I heard I was completely cleared to go, I was ready to go.”
Mainieri visited Ross in the player’s hotel room Wednesday night after the LSU medical staff gave him clearance to return.
“I thought the performance today by Ty Ross was really courageous,” Mainieri said. “I have not had my appendix out, but I can’t imagine it’s a lot of fun.
“The biggest reason I wanted to play him was because I wanted him to catch Kevin Gausman. Kevin has had a such a great year. It’s not that the other guys can’t do it, but those two work so well together. I just thought it would help Kevin in this game having Ty back there, and fortunately, he wound up catching a remarkable game.”
The Rebels cut the Tigers’ lead in half in the second when Auston Bousfield led off with a double and Will Allen singled him home. LSU rebuilt the lead to two runs in its next at-bat when Ross’ grounder brought home Mason Katz, who started the inning with a walk.
LSU pushed the lead to 4-1 in the sixth when Grant Dozar’s safety squeeze bunt scored Tyler Hanover, who started the inning with a single — the third of his career-high four hits. Ole Miss got within 4-2 in the bottom half when Bousfield doubled home Zach Kirksey, who had doubled and advanced on a Gausman wild pitch. Another wild pitch moved Bousfield to third before Gausman got Sikes Orvis for his seventh and final strikeout and induced a groundout from Allen.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said his team couldn’t afford to miss any scoring chances against Gausman, who he called “one of the best if not the best pitcher in the country.”
“He was terrific today,” Bianco said. “He’s as good as anybody we’ve seen. His fastball is just explosive and tough to catch up to. Today, his off-speed stuff was terrific. A guy with that kind of fastball, who can live in the strike zone and on both sides of the plate, is going to pitch in the major leagues. There’s no doubt about it.”
The Tigers, who stranded eight runners in the first six innings, left no doubt about which team was advancing after their outburst in the eighth.
With one out, Hanover beat out a dribbler up the third-base line and Arby Fields walked. Austin Nola, who finished 3-for-5 with a walk, doubled in one run and pinch hitter Jordy Snikeris doubled in two more. Katz reached on a single before Raph Rhymes and Tyler Moore hit consecutive RBI singles to make it 9-2.
Snikeris hit a two-run homer in the ninth to give LSU 17 hits, tying the total it had in a 10-6 victory against Arkansas on March 30, and providing a victory margin equal to that in a 12-3 victory at Ole Miss on May 6.
That finished a game that Mainieri called “vintage Gausman.”
Ross was there to catch it.
“I just think the fact that (Ross) caught me all of last year and this year gives us that chemistry,” Gausman said. “When I shake off a pitch, he knows exactly where I want to go. It’s really good when you have a battery that’s locked in like that and on the same page.”