BATON ROUGE — JaCoby Jones had the throw beat on his stolen base attempt during a fifth inning Tiger rally. And he came up four inches short of the bag as he popped up from his slide.
Rally and inning over. It epitomized perfectly the frustrating night for the Tigers.
Third-ranked LSU stranded nine runners, including six in scoring position, and played maybe their sloppiest game of the year in a disappointing 6-3 loss on Senior Night.
“It was just one of those games where nothing seemed to work for us, and Vanderbilt played just a little bit better than we did,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri.
After clinching the West and a first round bye in the SEC championship tournament in last night’s 2-1 win, the Tigers (39-12, 17-9) are now tied with South Carolina (38-13, 17-9) for second place in the overall SEC standings behind No. 7 Kentucky (41-11, 18-9). LSU finishes the regular season at South Carolina next weekend and have already dropped two of three at Kentucky.
In a must-win game if LSU has any realistic aspirations of winning the league title, sophomore right-hander Ryan Eades (5-2, 3.62 ERA) will start on Sunday for the Tigers against freshman right-hander Tyler Beede (1-4, 4.14 ERA).
The Tigers hit into four double plays, including the strike-em-out-throw-em out in the fifth when Arby Fields swung and missed and Jones was caught stealing. The deflating play wasted a one-out double by Tyler Hanover and a single by Jones, and took much of the life out of a crowd of 7,087 ready to explode.
“We never could find our rhythm,” Mainieri said. “We were on our heels the whole night. We didn’t have a 1-2-3 inning (defensively) until the ninth inning. We couldn’t get big hits. It was not our night.”
Just a day after Kevin Gausman’s complete-game gem, Tiger pitching gave up 12 hits, and in one inning alone, sandwiched two wild pitches around a balk that allowed the Commodores to score.
The Commodores stole five bases off of catcher Jordy Snikeris, who was a late game substitute for Ty Ross, out for two weeks now after having an emergency appendectomy Saturday afternoon.
And just in case the baseball gods were intent on making sure the Alex Box Stadium mood stayed somber, Raph Rhymes went 0-for-4 with two double plays and a strikeout. It snapped his 16-game hitting streak and dropped his NCAA-leading average to .485.
“I wasn’t worried about the streak, I don’t even know what they are,” Rhymes said. “All good things have to end some time. I’m more worried about the loss, because it hurts more.”
LSU trailed 3-0 when Austin Nola and Mason Katz both walked to start the sixth, bringing up Rhymes. Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin brought in relief pitcher Drew VerHagen to replace starter Sam Selman, and VerHagen induced a double play.
Rhymes also bounced into a double play with runners at the corners in the first.
“We didn’t find our groove in this game,” Mainieri said. “Rhymes didn’t get anything, which was a surprise. When he doesn’t hit for you, it knocks you back a little bit. We were on our heels all night.”
Selman (8-3) picked up the victory after giving up one earned run and scattering four hits in five innings. He walked four and struck out five. LSU freshman Aaron Nola (6-3), who switched with Eades in the rotation this weekend, was the tough luck loser after giving up three runs — only two of which were earned — and striking out nine.
Trailing just 1-0, the Tigers played a sloppy top half of the sixth. With one out, Nola hit Spencer Navin, who stole second. Connor Castellano beat out a slow-roller to shortstop Austin Nola, whose errant throw wound up in the dugout, allowed Navin to score, and moved Castellano to second.
Vince Conde then hit a ground ball to shortstop Nola, who elected to try to cut down the lead runner going to third. Castellano was ruled safe on a play that brought Mainieri out of the dugout to argue. Pouncing on the Tigers’ frustration, the Commodores executed the perfect suicide squeeze play, and to make matters worse Nola had no one to throw to at first base.
That ended the night for the young right-hander.
“We had some bad luck in that last inning I pitched,” Nola said.
He was also ready to shoulder the blame, however.
“It was also frustrating when I’d get the first two guys out and then give up a hit. I left the ball up. I didn’t make good two-strike pitches. I didn’t make them chase.”
Brent Bonvillain and Joey Bourgeois could not keep it within striking distance. They both threw wild pitches and Bonvillain balked to allow Vanderbilt a cheap run to make it 4-1 in the seventh, a lead that seemed insurmountable given the way the Tigers were playing.
The Commodores tacked on two more in the eighth off of Bourgeois. Tony Kemp drew a one-out walk and stole second before Anthony Gomez’s two-out double, his fourth hit of the night. Gomez then scored on Conrad Gregor’s single.
Tyler Moore’s two-run single got LSU within 6-3 in the eighth, but Hanover grounded out, stranding two more runners and ending the rally. It continued one of the night’s dreary themes, as the Tigers just kept coming up short.
Vanderbilt 6, No. 3 LSU 3
COMMODORES………. 001 002 120 – 6 12 0
TIGERS ……………….. 000 001 020 – 3 10 1
WP: Sam Selman (8-3)
LP: Aaron Nola (6-3)
S: Will Clinard (3)