LSU beats Tennessee 9-4 to win fourth straight SEC series

Conner Hale turned to YouTube to get out of his funk.

Stuck in a hitting skid and dropping down LSU’s batting order, Hale began watching at-bats from one of his favorite major leaguers: Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. Sifting through those Longoria clips on YouTube, the Tigers infielder found an idea: Open your stance.

“Guess it helps me see the ball a little bit better,” Hale said.

A little?

Hale drove in the eventual game-winning run in the eighth inning during a three-RBI day, and the Tigers answered Tennessee’s late rally with one of their own in a 9-4 win at Alex Box Stadium to claim a fourth straight Southeastern Conference series.

Sean McMullen had two doubles, three more players had at least two hits and LSU (33-11-1, 12-8-1) scored five runs in the eighth to break a tie and win a key game.

In the hunt for a national seed and an SEC West title, the Tigers avoided what would have been a third SEC series loss with three left to play.

“I think this win was critical to keep us in the hunt for one of those top four spots in the SEC (tournament) to get the bye on the first day,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “It’s critical to keep us in the hunt for an NCAA host on the regional weekend.”

LSU moved a half-game back of Alabama and Ole Miss in the West standings — it’s fourth overall — by surviving a wild series against the pesky Volunteers (26-16, 8-13). Over the three-game series, there were eight ties and seven lead changes.

Tennessee knotted the score with two runs in the eighth — an inning eerily similar to the Vols’ eighth-inning rally in a 6-3 win Saturday. LSU left the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth Saturday.

This time, the Tigers scored five runs on two hits and two walks in the inning.

Hale’s line-drive, one-out double to left scored speedster Jake Fraley from first base before Tennessee collapsed.

It was another big hit from Hale, a junior-college transfer from Florida. He was 5-for-8 in two starts against Ole Miss last weekend and finished the series against Tennessee 3-for-7. In both series, Hale did not play in Game 2, a move made by Mainieri because of his struggles against left-handed pitching.

“Gives me a little bit of fire,” Hale said. “I just go out there and I’m ready to play, ready to compete.”

The real reason behind his recent success? That change in his stance after watching YouTube clips of Longoria. Hale was in a 2-for-21 rut after the series against Arkansas on April 13.

“I wanted to try to hit like Eva Longoria,” Hale said. “I don’t hit like him because I don’t stand up as straight as he does, but I feel like he’s a really good player. That’s who I look up to.”

Hale mimicked Longoria’s open stance, fanning his lead foot out to produce results.

He had his first home run of the season in the 2-0 series-clinching win at Ole Miss, and Hale scored the winning run — after another double to left — in the series-opening win over the Rebels.

On Sunday, he had a sacrifice fly in the second to tie the score at 1. His chopping grounder through the left side of the infield scored another to help LSU take a 3-2 lead in a two-run fourth.

His big hit came in the eighth. He smashed reliever Drake Owenby’s 1-0 pitch to left with one out, bringing Fraley home from first to give LSU a 5-4 lead. The speedy freshman walked to start the rally.

“I felt like I was floating,” Fraley said. “Right off the bat, I was like, ‘There’s no way (third-base coach Will Davis) is holding me up. We’re going to get this run, and we’re going to win.’ ”

Davis waved him home, and the 5,582 at Alex Box erupted as the rookie from Delaware easily scored.

Kurt McCune got the win despite a rocky eighth inning. For the second straight game, he started the eighth in relief and gave up hits to his first two batters.

A host of LSU relievers held the Volunteers at bay through the middle of the game, and starter Alden Cartwright got out of an early jam.

Cartwright, a freshman from Runnels, got the nod on the mound for a second straight rubber match. He walked two in his two-inning outing but got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first.

“It gave our hitters a chance to get on them before they get on us,” Cartwright said.

The hitters came through. They had nine hits against five Tennessee pitchers, picking up some sluggish pitching and poor fielding — LSU committed seven errors in the three games — to tally 34 hits on the weekend.

None had more of an impact than Hale, who slowly is growing accustomed to LSU fans and their love of baseball.

A female fan hangs a sign from the mid-tier deck at Alex Box that reads “Hale Yeah!” She corresponds with Hale via Twitter. She had the sign flapping in the gusts Sunday as Hale continued to pummel pitches.

“Hardcore fans,” Hale said, smiling. “It’s awesome.”

Lagniappe

Alex Bregman was 2-for-5, giving him multiple hits in four straight games for the first time this season. His average is up to .296. … Mark Laird’s one-out double down the left-field line in the fifth extended his hitting streak to a career-tying eight games. … Mainieri said he has not decided who will pitch Tuesday against Alcorn State (8-36). The Tigers did not use junior Cody Glenn this weekend.