OXFORD — Two years ago the eighth-ranked and defending national champion LSU Tigers were cruising toward another run at Omaha when they traveled to Oxford to face the Ole Miss Rebels.
Three heart-breaking losses by a total of four runs later, the Tigers found themselves in a tailspin, losing eight of their next nine games.
LSU is hoping Friday night’s game is a little karma coming back around.
Designated hitter Grant Dozar drove in the game-tying and game-winning RBIs, and the Tiger bullpen pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings, leading LSU to a thrilling 4-3 victory before a raucous crowd of 9511 at Swayze Field Friday night.
Fourth-ranked LSU is now 37-10 overall and 15-7 in the SEC, tied with South Carolina for first place overall in the league and four games ahead of Arkansas in the West. No. 24 Ole Miss fell to 30-17, 10-12.
Raph Rhymes, who had two hits to keep his average at .500, walked with one out in the top of the 13th inning. Tyler Moore then singled to put runners at the corners. That set up Dozar and his tie-breaking RBI single.
“I’m so happy for Grant Dozar, a senior who means so much to our team,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “He delivered twice in clutch situations, and our pitching kept us in the game until Grant finally got us the big hit.”
LSU is now 10-3 in SEC games decided by one run and 3-1 in extra inning games.
Coincidentally, some Tigers before the game were talking about a new sign the players make when they perform in the clutch. And Dozar was in the center of the conversation.
“You make a big play, you make a big hit, we do a little wave on the head like a shark fin,” Tiger catcher Ty Ross said. “It’s Dozar being Dozar, but Mason (Katz) was the first person to put it onto the field in live action.”
“Dozar was being Dozar” meant something else on this night. His extra-inning heroics followed his two-out, game tying homer in the eighth and picked up the normally reliable Katz, who had an 0-for-6 night at the plate.
LSU hitters were only 11-for-48 Friday night, led by senior shortstop Austin Nola’s three base hits.
It was LSU’s pitching, especially the bullpen, that held the line and gave the Tiger bats a chance to break through. Chris Cotton, Nick Rumbelow, Brent Bonvillain, Joey Bourgeois, and Nick Goody relieved starter Kevin Gausman, who gave up three earned runs in 7 1/3 innings.
Before the game Gausman said of the Rebels: “They kind of think they’re as good as us, and I don’t think they are.”
The hard-throwing right-hander backed up his words for much of the night, retiring the first twelve Rebel hitters in order and not surrendering a hit until the fifth. The Rebels finally broke through in the sixth when they cut a 2-0 LSU lead in half and then took the lead in the seventh on a solo homer and sacrifice fly.
“I think our guys competed tremendously,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “We had a lead then a home run hits the top of the fence and gets out. We went into extra innings and we had so many opportunities to get a clutch hit. They really had one opportunity and they took it. That was the ballgame.”
Ole Miss right-hander Bobby Wahl pitched seven solid innings, limiting the Tigers to two runs on seven hits and two walks and striking out six. R. J. Hively (4-4) was charged with the loss despite chewing up six innings out of the bullpen and striking out six. He scattered just four hits, but the big two by Dozar were the difference.
“This was a tremendous team victory,” said Mainieri. “I thought our players showed great poise in a very difficult place to play.”
Indeed, a very difficult place to play. That’s why the Tigers need to be like sharks smelling blood for the rest of the weekend.
#4 LSU 4, #24 Ole Miss 3
TIGERS 011 000 010 000 1 - 4 11 0
REBELS 000 001 200 000 0 - 3 10 0
WP-Joey Bourgeois (3-2)
LP-R.J. Hively (4-4)
S-Nick Goody (9)
HR (LSU) - Tyler Moore (4); Grant Dozar (4)
HR (OM) – Matt Snyder (12)