LSU starter Nate Bumstead earned his fifth win of the year by giving up two runs on five hits in eight and one/thirds innings of work. He one-upped Auburn starter Josh Bell, who was outstanding. He gave up just one hit in six and one/thirds innings on Sunday. Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said the pitching was the story of the day and LSU was just a little better.
"There was just great pitching," Renfroe said. "Bumstead matched our guy and won that battle finally. That's baseball."
Leading 1-0 heading to the ninth LSU went searching for more and Ivan Naccarata got things started with a walk off reliever Michael Nix to put Auburn's bullpen into motion. Following a sac bunt that moved Naccarata to second, Renfroe went to All-American Steven Register to keep the Fighting Tigers at bay, but the move didn't work.
Nick Stavinoha was the first batter Register faced and he got the big junior college transfer to pop up to second for the second out of the inning. That brought Derek Hebert to the plate. The shortstop hit a routine grounder to Ben Maitland at third for what looked like the third out of the inning, but Maitland's throw was low and Derek Sain couldn't dig it out. The ball went all the way to the wall and Naccarata scored to put LSU ahead 2-0. Visibly shaken after the play, Register allowed J.C. Holt to double off the wall in left to score Hebert and make it 3-0.
As it usually does, Auburn refused to go quietly as Sean Gamble doubled to right to lead off the inning against Bumstead, breaking a string of 17-straight batters he had retired since Gamble reached on a fielder's choice in the fourth. Following a Chuck Jeroloman fly out to right field, center fielder Clete Thomas came through with his first home run of the season, a screamer over the center field wall to cut the lead to 3-2. Bell then singled up the middle to put an end to Bumstead's day, but reliever Greg Smith came on to get Tug Hulett to ground into a game-ending double play to end the day and give LSU the series win.
"It's hard," Renfroe said. "The kids fought their guts out. You're not going to put the blame on any one kid, but it's a play that really changed the game. We felt good in the bottom of the ninth with the top of the order coming up. It was just tough. It's hard."
Despite walking too many LSU hitters, Bell was masterful on the day and didn't allow a hit to the Fighting Tigers until the seventh inning as both he and Bumstead dominated the early part of the game. Bell's first real trouble came in the sixth when walks almost did him in. With two outs and nobody on he walked both Blake Gill and Harris to bring cause some concern that he was tiring. It definitely looked that way as he quickly fell behind 3-1 on John Zeringue before getting him to fly out to Gamble in left field to end the inning and the threat.
Josh Bell threw a career-high six and one/thirds innings on Sunday.
With Bumstead cruising on the mound Auburn didn't challenge in the bottom of the inning and LSU came back for more in the seventh. Saturday's hero, Naccarata again came through for LSU, this time with an infield single off the glove of Bell to get the inning underway. Matt Liuzza then hit a soft grounder to Maitland at third. The junior threw to Hulett at second, but couldn't get Liuzza at first for the double play. Following a walk to Stavinoha, Renfroe went to the bullpen for Mike Nix and the Auburn native did his job, getting a ground ball double play on the first pitch to end the inning.
Nix wouldn't be as fortunate in the eighth though as LSU broke through with the game's first run. With one out Ryan Patterson hit a bloop single into center field just in front of Thomas. Excited after breaking an 0-11 slump this weekend, Patterson stole second to move into scoring position. That proved to be costly for Auburn as Blake Gill hit a grounder to Sain at first base for the unassisted out. The ball would have allowed Auburn to get the lead runner, but instead he moved to third.
That brought Auburn killer Harris to the plate. On both Friday and Saturday he came through with big hits to keep LSU alive and this time he did it once again. After fighting Nix through two inside pitches, the big senior got ahead of the pitch and pulled it into left field for a single to score Patterson and give LSU the 1-0 lead. The ninth inning would provide fireworks, but LSU would hold on for the win.
On an unusual Sunday when the pitching was better than the hitting, the two teams combined for just nine hits with Thomas the only player with two. Auburn's three errors were costly and led directly to LSU's last two runs.
Auburn returns to action Tuesday night at 6 p.m. when UAB comes to Auburn for 25-cent hotdog night at Plainsman Park. The Tigers travel to Oxford next weekend to face the Western Division leading Ole Miss Rebels in a three-game series.