BY LES EAST
May 26, 2012
HOOVER, ALA. — LSU began its Southeastern Conference baseball tournament elimination game against Mississippi State on Friday afternoon as though it was going to have an early knockout punch.
The Tigers took advantage of some wildness by Bulldogs starter Jacob Lindgren to grab an early lead. They scored two runs in the first when Ty Ross ripped a bases-loaded line drive. Raph Rhymes scored easily from third, and Mason Katz hustled home from second as the ball bounded into foul territory between home and first.
Aggressive base-running yielded another run in the second. JaCoby Jones led off with a walk, and on a hit-and-run he went all the way from first to third on Arby Fields’ groundout to third, then scored on Austin Nola’s groundout to short.
“We came out determined,” Katz said. “We wanted to play well, and we wanted to keep going. One thing we pride ourselves on a lot is our base-running. We did a really good job of that today, but we didn’t do enough. We were quiet after the first two innings.”
LSU didn’t score again and State scored one run in the eighth, two in the ninth and one in the 10th to win and send the Tigers home.
Tyler Moore singled with one out in the fourth, Nola singled with one out in the fifth, Jordy Snikeris singled with one out in the sixth, Moore walked leading off and Nola walked with two out in the seventh, Katz singled leading off and Snikeris singled with one out in the eighth, and Katz reached on a two-out error in the 10th, but LSU came up empty each time. The Tigers went out in order in the third and the ninth.
“We had a couple of opportunities where we got the leadoff hitter on and a couple of opportunities with a runner in scoring position,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said, “but we couldn’t come through with a base hit. We couldn’t muster enough offense to give us a big enough gap to win the game.”
LSU hit into two double plays and stranded five runners after the second inning.
“We kind of stalled,” Rhymes said. “I give credit to the Mississippi State pitchers. They threw very well, and they played good defense. We just couldn’t get it going. We’ll get better from it.”
LSU awaits announcement
The Tigers expect to officially be awarded an NCAA regional when the regional sites are announced at 2:30 p.m. Sunday on NCAA.com. It’s all but certain that Alex Box Stadium will be one of the 16 sites for four-team regional play beginning next Friday.
LSU expects more good news when the entire 64-team bracket, including the eight national seeds, are announced at 11 a.m. Monday on ESPNU. The Tigers, the SEC regular-season champions who are ranked No. 2 in two polls and tied for No. 5 in another, appear to be strong candidates to receive a national seed as a potential super regional host.
State changes confusing
Play was stopped twice during the Bulldogs’ winning at-bat in the bottom of the 10th for consultations with home-plate umpire Tony Maners.
LSU reliever Nick Goody got Demarcus Henderson leading off on a grounder to short, then Bulldogs coach John Cohen went to visit with Maners for couple of minutes while Goody played toss with third baseman Tyler Hanover.
“John had made some changes, and somehow the umpire was confused on where the changes were actually made,” Mainieri said. “He didn’t want somebody batting out of order, and quite frankly I was a little irritated because our pitcher’s out there trying to pitch and all of a sudden he’s got to stand on the mound for several minutes. It’s kind of like icing the free-throw shooter.
“I thought it was something that could have been handled at a different time, between innings or whatever. I don’t know why it was so confusing. He’s a veteran umpire.”
After the next hitter, Mitch Slauter, doubled, Mainieri went to talk to Maners and Cohen joined him. Mainieri said Maners told him he thought Nick Ammirati, who was a late replacement, was due to bat as Matthew Britton, who had pinch run an inning earlier, stepped into the batter’s box.
“It was confusing out there,” Mainieri said.
The confusion ended when Britton singled home the winning run.
Tigers defense shines
LSU made several stellar defensive plays as it held State scoreless for the first seven innings.
With runners on first and second and two out in the second, Rhymes made a diving catch of Sam Frost’s fly ball near the foul line in left field. In the fourth inning, Jones made a nice pivot on a throw from Hanover to turn a 5-4-3 double play, then after a walk he took a throw from Katz on Frost’s double to right and threw a strike to Snikeris to easily get Wes Rea trying to score.
Mississippi State got the first two runners on in the fifth inning before Nola fielded Tyler Fullerton’s grounder behind second, stepped on the bag and threw to Moore at first for a double play.