Baton Rouge -- Drawing the opposition’s best starting pitcher every time out is no easy assignment, but it’s becoming just that for Kurt McCune.
For the fourth straight week, the LSU freshman went pitch-for-pitch against one of the country’s best arms - and, for the third time, his team came out on top.
The Tigers (19-7, 2-5) rode McCune’s arm and the bat of Mikie Mahtook to a 7-6 win Friday night at Alex Box Stadium.
“It’s really an honor to go against guys like that on Friday’s,” McCune said. “That’s what I ask for. That’s why I came to LSU.”
McCune (5-0) danced around a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first with a pair of fastball strikeouts of Matt Tracy and Preston Overbey, then settled in to work seven innings of three-run ball.
“What can you say about Kurt McCune,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “The kid is just amazing. I’m starting to think it’s not a fluke.”
Mahtook got LSU on the board in the third inning with the first of his two opposite field home runs off of previously undefeated Rebel starter Matt Crouse.
“We knew coming in the he liked to work away,” Mahtook said. “I got two pitches to hit out that way, and I was fortunate enough to get them out.”
Ole Miss took a temporary lead in the top of the same frame when Blake Newalu coaxed a full-count walk and scored on Alex Yarbrough’s RBI double. Tracy got revenge for his early strikeout with a two-out RBI single to right to push the Rebels ahead.
Matt Snyder padded the lead with a blast of his own into the bleachers in right field, but it didn’t shake the Tiger freshman on the mound. McCune bounced back and fanned the next three batters to steady the preverbal ship.
“Adrenaline goes through you after they hit a home run,” McCune said. “After home runs I definitely try to get that next guy out. It shows mental toughness.”
McCune would blank Ole Miss over the next three frames and allow his offense - particularly Mahtook - to get to work.
After leaving the bases loaded in the fifth, LSU used the bottom of the order to get things going in the sixth.
Alex Edward and Ty Ross blooped a couple of balls in for singles, and pinch hitter Grant Dozar laid down a full-count bunt that moved them into scoring position for the top of the order and Raph Rhymes.
Rhymes contributed an RBI groundout to plate Edward and give LSU the lead.
Tyler Hanover ripped a single to centerfield to score Ross, and JaCoby Jones reached on an infield single in front of the night’s offensive star, Mahtook.
With a pair off home runs to his credit, the junior stroked a single, his fourth hit in four tries, to right field. Hanover hustled and beat the throw from Matt Smith to the plate. Taylor Hightower, the Rebel catcher, attempted to gun Mahtook down as he headed for second, but he airmailed the throw into centerfield, allowing Jones to come home and LSU a 7-3 lead.
“I never thought Ole Miss would quit when it was 7-3,” Mainieri said. “Every game we play in the SEC, particularly against Ole Miss, is this kind of game.”
Freshman Ryan Eades took the ball in the eighth, and the Rebels proved his coach right, lacing a single, a double and a two-RBI triple from Miles Hamblin to cut the lead to two.
Mainieri summoned Kevin Berry to clean up Eades’ mess, which he did, allowing just the run from third to score, drawing Ole Miss within one.
With the lead at one, Maineri chose to go with Berry in the ninth, even with the school’s all-time saves leader ready in the pen.
Berry slammed the door on the Rebels with a perfect inning to notch the save and preserve the win.
“After the eighth, I felt a little momentum,” Berry said. “That’s probably the best I’ve felt all year. I thought (Mainieri) was going to do like normal and go with Matty (Ott), but he asked me if I could go another one.”
Tomorrow’s contest is set for 6:30 p.m. CST. Fresh off of his roughest outing of the year, freshman Kevin Gausman will get the nod for LSU.