OXFORD — It was as simple as Ole Miss responding to LSU’s rally and LSU not answering the Rebels.’
Of course four Tiger double-plays didn’t help either.
Ole Miss answered LSU’s four fourth inning runs with three of their own in the bottom half to tie the game, and then tacked on three more in the coming innings to score a 7-4 victory over the Tigers before 9040 at Swayze Field Saturday afternoon.
Fourth-ranked LSU fell to 37-11 overall and 15-8 in the SEC, remaining tied with South Carolina for first place in the league. No. 24 Ole Miss improved to 31-17, 11-12.
The rubber match will be at 1:30 pm tomorrow. Freshman right-hander Aaron Nola (5-2, 3.90 ERA) will start on the mound for the Tigers while Ole Miss will counter with junior left-hander Dylan Chavez (3-3, 3.27 ERA).
Given a 4-1 advantage in the top of the fourth, LSU starter Ryan Eades couldn’t hold it in the bottom half. Rebels’ Zach Kirksey lofted a one-out fly ball to right that barely scraped over the wall to cut the lead to 4-2. Four batters later Lake Charles native Tanner Mathis ripped a line drive through the right side to cut the Tiger lead to one.
On the play, right-fielder Mason Katz made an ill-advised throw to the plate, allowing Austin Anderson to get to third. That made Andrew Mistone’s harmless infield hit to shortstop Austin Nola a game-tying RBI single.
The next inning looked promising for the Tigers when Nola led off the inning with a line-drive single to left, chasing Ole Miss starter Mike Mayers. But Katz hit into a double play and Raph Rhymes struck out looking on a ball that looked well outside the strike zone.
“It’s frustrating because we had a four-run inning that gave us a lead, and we couldn’t score again,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri.
After another Tiger double play ended the sixth, this one on a failed hit and run in which Tyler Hanover lined out to right field, Mathis struck again in the bottom half of the inning off of Tiger reliever Kurt McCune (2-4). His fifth hit of the series plated Will Jamison, who had doubled, to put the Rebels up 5-4.
LSU’s could not ignite any eighth inning magic like they did last night and in two wins over Georgia last weekend. Katz continued his miserable weekend at the plate by striking out on a ball near his eyes, and after Raph Rhymes extended his hitting streak to 14 games, Tyler Moore hit the first pitch he saw into the third double play of the day for the Tigers.
Fittingly, LSU squandered a one-out walk in the ninth when Hanover hit into a game-ending double play.
“We couldn’t generate a consistent effort at the plate, and we had a difficult time staying away from the double play,” said Mainieri.
LSU followed an 11-for-48 night at the plate with a 7-for-30 effort on Saturday. Moore and JaCoby Jones paced the Tigers with two hits apiece. Rhymes’ late single put his average at .497 on the season.
Ole Miss’s bullpen was stellar, as three pitchers combined to shut out the Tigers over the last five innings of play. Tanner Bailey (2-1) picked up the win with two innings of relief, giving up two hits and striking out two. Chris Ellis worked an inning before head coach Mike Bianco called on Brett Huber to close things out in the eighth and ninth.
“Today a lot of the headlines will go to the offense with twelve hits and seven runs,” said Bianco. “But it was big for our pitchers to put up zeros after giving four runs in the fourth. Tanner (Bailey) came in and got a double play and that kept the momentum on our side. We were able to come back, score three and tie it up. The bullpen was great.”
Ole Miss struck first in the opening inning with a little small ball. Mathis led the game off with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on a sacrifice bunt by Mistone, and scored when Alex Yarbrough grounded out to short.
LSU seemed poised to run away with it in the fourth with some clutch hitting and execution of their own. After Katz walked and Rhymes was hit by a pitch, Tyler Moore lined an RBI single to center and Friday night’s hero Grant Dozar put down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to put LSU up 2-1. Three batters later Jones drove a 1-1 slider to center to plate Moore and Dozar and give LSU the short-lived 4-1 lead.
The Rebels tacked on two insurance runs in the seventh when Auston Bousfield hit a two-run homer to left field off Kevin Berry, whom LSU coach Paul Mainieri called on despite having only pitched ten innings this season. Brent Bonvillain had put the leadoff man on with a four-pitch walk, and Mainieri brought in the right-handed Berry to face the right-handed Bousfield, who had previously never homered.
“He threw a slider in and I just threw my hands at it and good things happened,” Bousfield said.
Said Mainieri, “It’s a tough loss, but it doesn’t diminish our chances of coming back and trying to win this series tomorrow.”
The Tigers will have to play a much more inspired brand of baseball to do it.
#4 LSU 4, #24 Ole Miss 7
TIGERS 000 400 000 000 0 – 4 7 1
REBELS 100 301 200 000 x – 7 12 0
WP-Tanner Bailey (2-1)
LP-Kurt McCune (2-4)
S-Brett Huber (8)
HR (OM) – Zach Kirksey (12); Auston Bousfield (1)