Seizing an opportunity

Tigers walk off with a 5-4 win and series sweep on a wind- and sun-aided fly ball.

When the highlight video for LSU’s 2012 baseball season is pieced together, it’s unlikely that the final blow of Sunday’s 5-4 victory of Dartmouth will take a prominent spot.

 

Aesthetically pleasing or not, though, the Tigers aren’t about to apologize for the end result.

 

LSU finished off a sweep of the Big Green when Tyler Hanover’s seemingly routine fly ball to center field with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning stayed up in the sun, wind and high sky long enough to confound center fielder Jake Carlson. The ball caromed off Carlson’s glove and knee and ricocheted far enough away to allow Austin Nola to score easily from first base for the game-winning run.

 

Nola, who had extended the inning with a two-out single, took off full speed on contact on what appeared to be an out destined to send the game to extra innings.

 

Austin Nola: Career-high four hits and the game-winning run on Sunday

“I didn’t know he was going to miss it, but I knew I had to score hard, because with this sun and high sky and wind, every ball was a tough play,” Nola said.

 

“I knew it was a very good possibility he could drop the ball.”

 

Hanover wasn’t quite as optimistic as his infield mate.

 

“Give me glove, I’m going back out to third base,” Hanover said of what was racing through his head as he made contact. “I knew I’d put a decent swing on it, but I thought I got under it too much.

 

“It’s the game of baseball. It always has its ups and downs, and if you place it just right, things can happen.”

 

That was the story Sunday for both teams as Dartmouth (0-3) put up its best fight of the three games and LSU (10-2) kept battling after coughing up an early 3-0 lead.

 

The Tigers pounced in front with a recipe that was effective throughout a busy week.

 

Raph Rhymes: Second 4-hit day of the season

Mason Katz lashed a two-out double to center field in the first inning and cleanup hitter Raph Rhymes began a productive day (4-for-5, 2 RBIs) by punching a base hit through the middle for a 1-0 lead.

 

Two innings later, JaCoby Jones was the table-setter with a leadoff double and he moved to third on Katz’s roller to the right side. Rhymes got ahead in the count 2-and-0 and then rammed another RBI hit over the second baseman.

 

With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Rhymes kick-started LSU when he yanked a double to right field. He dashed to third base on Thomas Olson’s wild pitch and that turned out to be huge when Nola cued a ball just over the mound that back-spun away from Sclafani at shortstop for an RBI infield hit that knotted the score 4-4.

Nola kept that rally alive when he ripped a hit-and-run single to right-center, one of his career-high four hits, to put runners on the corners. Hanover laid down a perfect safety squeeze bunt to bring Rhymes home for the 3-0 cushion.

 

“We did some good things to get the lead, had some good at-bats and executed,” Nola said.

 

The Big Green took those cues and did the same to claw right back into the game.

 

Tigers’ starting pitcher Kurt McCune battled his control for much of his 4.2-inning stint and that finally caught up to him in the fifth when he walked Jeff Keller to start the frame and fell behind Nick Lombardi, who rolled the third pitch through the left side for a single.

 

McCune fanned David Turnbull but Matt Robinson smoked an RBI hit through the middle for Dartmouth’s first run. After Joe Sclafani skied out to center field for the second out, Thomas Roulis crushed a double to right-center field to score Turnbull.

 

That ended the day for McCune, who walked four and exited before he qualified for the win for the second week in a row.

 

“I could’ve gone longer, but I think Coach made a good choice switching pitchers,” McCune said. “It was kind of a momentum change.”

 

Reliever Joe Broussard ended the threat when he struck out Chris O’Dowd, but he couldn’t preserve the lead. In the fourth inning, the Big Green drew even with some two-out manufacturing.

 

Keller slashed a two-out single, stole second and raced around on Lombardi’s hit to left field when Jared Foster’s throw was off-target.

 

That wasn’t the end of Dartmouth’s chipping away. Robinson started the seventh with his second hit when he rifled Broussard’s first offering to center field. He raced up 90 feet on a wild pitch and moved to third base when Sclafani grounded out 3-1.

 

Tigers coach Paul Mainieri summoned freshman left-hander Cody Glenn from the bullpen and he got ahead of Roulis 1-and-2 before the count went full and the Big Green second baseman mashed a single to right field to put Dartmouth ahead 4-3.

 

“They were an excellent ball club, very scrappy,” Mainieri said. “They had some good at-bats and got back in the game.”

 

 Down for only the second time in the series, the Tigers didn’t flinch.

 

“That wasn’t my best swing of the day, but it got the job done,” Nola said with a smile. “That’s the way baseball is sometimes.”

 

Chris Cotton: Picked up his first win with 1.1 scoreless innings

LSU relievers Joey Bourgeois and Chris Cotton held the Big Green scoreless in its final two at-bats and that set the stage for the Nola and Hanover combination for the unlikely walk-off victory, the Tigers’ fifth this week.

 

Mainieri didn’t mince words about his two seniors teaming up to make the play that seemed like a sure out instead result in the winning run.

 

“(Nola) plays the game the right way and doesn’t do anything half speed,” Mainieri said. “There was no question in my mind that he was going to be running hard, but I would hope that all of our players would do that because it’s the right way to play the game.

 

“If we strike out there, then we don’t put any pressure on them. We hit the ball hard and hit it deep to right-center field and the kid had to make the play and doesn’t do it and we win.”

 

The Tigers are back in action Tuesday when they travel to New Orleans to take on Tulane, which improved to 10-2 with a 7-2 triumph against Alabama on Sunday. The Green Wave took two of three games from the Crimson Tide.

 

Aaron Nola (1-0) will get the start for LSU against fellow Baton Rouge native Alex Byo (1-1).


BOX SCORE

SERIES WRAP: LSU 5, Dartmouth 4

VIDEO: Mainieri proud of win

VIDEO: Tigers finish off sweep of Dartmouth


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