Tigers power past Auburn with 9-4 win at Alex Box

Mason Katz apparently can predict home runs as well as he can hit them.

Katz told Raph Rhymes before LSU’s baseball game against Auburn on Friday night that Rhymes was going to hit his first home run of the season.

Then Rhymes went out and did just that in the first inning, and Katz followed with his team-leading 10th homer in the third inning as LSU won 9-4 at Alex Box Stadium.

“There was something different about Raph before the game,” Katz said afterward. “He had a bounce in his step. I told him, ‘You’re going to hit a homer today, I can feel it.’ Then, after he hit it and stepped on home plate, he looked at me and I said, ‘I told you.’ ”

Rhymes’ homer gave LSU a 3-0 first-inning lead, and after Auburn got within a run, Katz’s homer pushed the lead to 5-2.

Katz added an RBI single in the eighth, and Alex Bregman had three singles for his fourth three-hit game of the season as he extended his hit streak to 10 games.

The wind was lighter and the temperature warmer heavier than it has been for most games this season, and it showed.

“It was a hitter’s evening,” Rhymes said. “Both teams took advantage and swung the bats well.”

No. 3 LSU, which had scored just two runs in each of its last two games, improved to 20-2 for just the second time in school history as it matched the 1997 team. It is 3-1 in the Southeastern Conference

LSU will try for its first series win against Auburn, 15-7 and 0-4, in four years when the teams meet at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

Starter Aaron Nola (3-0) struck out nine in 6.2 innings but gave up a season-high nine hits for the second consecutive start. His previous high was five.

“I left the ball up in the strike zone a couple of times, and they made me pay for it,” Nola said. “But I kept the team in the game, and we got a lot of offense.”

Nola gave up one run in the second and another in the third then settled down. He gave up a leadoff single in the fourth then got a double play and a groundout.

He retired the side in order in the fifth, and in the sixth, he gave up consecutive two-out singles then got a strikeout.

LSU was leading 7-2 when Nola allowed a leadoff double in the seventh then got consecutive outs. Brent Bonvillain relieved and got the final out when second baseman JaCoby Jones made a diving stop of a grounder and threw out Cullen Wacker at first.

“Aaron got himself in a lot of advantageous counts, but then he’d get the ball out over the plate,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “When he gave up hits it was because he put the ball over the middle of the plate.”

Bonvillain walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth. Nick Rumbelow relieved and gave up a double, got a strikeout and walked consecutive batters to make it 7-3. Joey Bourgeois came in and got the next two batters on a pop-up and a groundout to leave the bases loaded.

“I wasn’t totally pleased with the bullpen,” Mainieri said, “but Joey Bourgeois saved the game for us.”

In the bottom of the eighth Jones walked, stole second, moved to third on a flyout and scored on a wild pitch to make it 8-3. Bregman walked, Rhymes singled him to third, and Katz singled him home to make it 9-3.

The six-run cushion enabled Mainieri to hold back closer Chris Cotton, and Kevin Berry gave up two hits and a run in the ninth to finish.

With one out in the first, Mark Laird beat out a grounder to short, Bregman singled to left, and Rhymes homered to left against Daniel Koger (0-2).

“I thought we came out with a lot of fire,” Mainieri said. “What a great first inning.”

Nola ran into two-out trouble in the second as Damek Tomscha doubled, and Blake Austin singled him home.

Auburn got to Nola again in the third as Jordan Ebert walked leading off, stole second one out later and scored when Garrett Cooper doubled.

LSU negated those runs in the third as Laird walked leading off, and two outs later, Katz homered to left. Katz’s 10th homer came in the 22nd game of the season. Last season, he hit his 10th homer in the 53rd game. He has four homers in four SEC games and eight homers in his last eight games.

“It’s been a weird streak,” Katz said. “I’m not getting on base all that much, but whenever I hit the ball, it seems like it’s a home run.”

In the fifth, Auburn reliever Jay Wade gave up a leadoff single to Bregman and walked Rhymes and Katz to load the bases. Christian Ibarra lined a 3-2 pitch right past Wade and into center field for a two-run single and a 7-2 lead.

Wade fell to the ground avoiding the liner and injured his right ankle. He sat on the ground near the mound for several minutes as the Auburn trainer checked him before Wade was wheeled off the field and taken to a hospital for X-rays.

Auburn outhit LSU 12-10, but left 11 runners on base and didn’t match LSU’s power.

“We had 12 hits, and we put ourselves in position where maybe one more swing here or there would make it an interesting game,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “It’s tough. They jumped up early, we got back in it at 3-2 but they put another big swing on it.

“Two big swings and they score five runs, and that’s tough to overcome, and we couldn’t do that tonight.”