Baton Rouge -- Friday’s 7-6 Tiger victory set the bar for the rest of the series at a nearly unreachable height.
In a game that featured gusty starting pitching, clutch hitting, multiple squeeze plays, perfect hit and runs, six errors, a catcher’s interference and a brutal collision, the only proper finishing touch was a record-setting save.
Matty Ott came through in the ninth with his 30th career save, a record outing that slammed the door on LSU’s biggest win of the 2011 season.
“That was a hell of a ballgame,” said junior third baseman Tyler Hanover. “You can’t ask for anything better than that.”
Freshman starter Kurt McCune turned in another sensational outing, this time on the biggest stage of his young career. He threw six innings and yielded just three hits and a single unearned run while striking out five without a walk
“I definitely know (Coach Paul Maineiri) is confident in me now,” McCune said. “I feel like I earned another Friday after that performance.”
LSU gave McCune a lead in the first, scoring two runs by way of a hit by pitch, sacrifice bunt, an error by Titan starter Noe Ramirez, a perfectly executed hit and run RBI single by Hanover and a sacrifice fly by Mason Katz.
LSU left the bases loaded in that frame, an opportunity wasted.
Katz’s squeeze bunt to score Hanover in the third would be all LSU would get for awhile.
Fullerton moved a runner in to scoring position in the third, fourth and fifth, but never could cash in against LSU’s young right hander.
In the sixth, McCune retired the leadoff hitter, but a Hanover error allowed Anothony Trajano to reach. McCune bowed his neck and got a ground ball that looked to be an inning ending double play, but it got through JaCoby Jones, putting a pair of Titans on base and prompting a visit from Mainieri.
“I told him not worry about the runner on third base. Just let him score,” Mainieri said. “I brought all the guys in to just settle them down a little bit.”
McCune got a ground out, scoring the run, and recorded the third out on a fly ball, minimizing the damage.
McCune gave way to Chris Cotton in the seventh, and Cal State Fullerton showed why they are ranked No. 6 in the country without having hit a home run. They used a pair of perfectly placed hit and run singles, a squeeze bunt turned RBI single and, finally, a conventional RBI single to take a 4-3 lead.
Ramirez, meanwhile, had set down 10 consecutive Tigers, a number he would stretch to 13.
But LSU finally cracked the code in the eighth inning.
Trailing by one run and Ramirez seemingly on cruise control, Raph Rhymes lead off the inning with a sharp single to left field. Hanover, as he’s done all season long, followed with a beautiful bunt single down the first base line.
After a wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, Mike Mahtook was intentionally walked to load the bases for Austin Nola. The walk ended Ramirez’s night.
“When Ramirez settles in, he’s definitely one of the toughest pitchers in the country,” Hanover said. “Once he got that slider going, he was really tough to hit.”
Ramirez gave way to Dylan Floro, who Nola rudely greeted with an RBI single to right, knotting the ballgame.
Katz reached on a catcher’s interference, plating the go-ahead run as Ott began to toss at a feverish pitch in the Tiger bullpen.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri then summoned Grant Dozar, who was previously hitless on the season, to bat for Alex Edward.
With the infield in, Dozar delivered a single to left field, scoring a pair of runs and giving LSU the insurance it would desperately need in the ninth.
“The guys on the bench take pride in being in the game every pitch,” Dozar said. “Being in the game mentally, it feels like you’re out there all eight innings. When coach tells you to grab a bat and get in the box, it’s not too bad because your mind is in the game so much.”
Then Ott came on and allowed a pair of one-out singles to the top two hitters in the lineup. With the two runners on, Nick Ramirez chopped a ball toward second base, and a charging JaCoby Jones collided with Trajano, resulting in Trajano being called out for interference and both players hitting the deck.
Titan designated hitter Carlos Lopez silenced the Alex Box Stadium crowd with a two-RBI double to draw within one run, but Ott induced a harmless ground ball from Tyler Pill, Saturday’s projected starting pitcher, to nail down the record-setting save.
“To have a record like that, it’s such an honor,” Ott said. “It’s nothing like winning a (College) World Series, but it hasn’t really sunk in yet.”
Saturday’s game is set for 2 p.m. at The Box. Another freshman, Kevin Gausman, will take the ball for LSU. Cal State Fullerton will send out Pill.