Eighth seed LSU withstood two walks, a passed ball and a fielding error in the ninth inning to hang on for a 4-3 win over top-seeded Alabama in the opening day of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium Thursday.
Dirks (5-4) retired 21 of 23 batters faced through the first seven innings, allowing just two hits. Alabama's only chance to score in the early innings came in the third, when Spencer Pennington and Brandon Belcher struck back-to-back singles to lead off the inning.
Dirks baffled the next 15 batters, however, striking out Greg Paiml and Emeel Salem, then getting Matt Downs (Alabama's RBI leader) to ground out to end the third inning before retiring the side in order in each of the next four innings.
"We tried to do a safety squeeze (in the third) with Paiml and he took a first-pitch fastball, so that was one run (lost)," Wells said. "Then we still had runners on with one out and couldn't score. We had a chance to score that inning and we had one other chance late in the game."
The first five hitters in the Alabama lineup were 0 for 17 on the day.
"We really couldn't solve Dirks," Salem, Alabama's leading hitter, said. "We chased too many pitches. He's not overpowering but I guess he had his stuff today."
LSU scored a run in the second inning when designated hitter Steven Waguespack was hit by a pitch and came around to score after a Quinn Stewart double and a Jordan Mayer RBI groundout.
"Once I saw Dirks was in pretty good control we just tried to score one run at a time," LSU Coach Smoke Laval said. The Tigers added a single run in the fifth on two hits and a sacrifice fly, and another in the seventh after a leadoff walk, two groundouts and an RBI-double by Will Harris to open up a 3-0 lead.
Bama finally broke through in the bottom of the eighth inning when pinch hitter Kent Matthes blasted his first career home run to pull Alabama to within a single run at 3-2. Ryan Rhoden led off the eighth inning with a single, and Dirks retired the next two batters before Matthes drove the two-out fastball over the left field wall.
"It was Coach Raccuia's idea (to put in Matthes)," Wells said. "Paiml has been struggling and he said ‘How about giving Matthes a shot.' I said, ‘Why not?' Kent certainly did his job. Maybe he should have had more than one at-bat in retrospect."
LSU pinch hitter Buzzy Haydel hit a solo homer off Alabama reliever Jake McCarter in the ninth inning for insurance, and it proved to be a valuable run.
Things got interesting in the ninth after Evan Bush walked and Spencer Pennington reached base on a two-out fielding error by LSU second baseman Nicholas Pontiff. Rhoden then scored from third on a passed ball, and Kyle Moore, pinch-running for Pennington, moved into scoring position. Brandon Belcher was intentionally walked to put the potential winning run on first base, but Matt Bently grounded out to end the game.
Bernard Robert (7-6) started for Alabama and took a hard-luck loss after allowing just three runs and five hits in six innings. He walked one and hit two batters.
Alabama will play Thursday at 1 p.m. against the loser of the Ole Miss-Arkansas game that was played later Wednesday night. Wells said Wade LeBlanc will start for Alabama.
The top three seeds in the tournament, ostensibly trying to play their way into a top-eight national seed for the NCAA tournament, all lost on Wednesday. Kentucky was a 9-2 loser to South Carolina and Vanderbilt defeated Georgia 9-4.