Late-game magic lifts LSU past State

Tigers edge Bulldogs 3-2 in 10 after both starting pitchers dominate for 9 innings.

Runs figured to be tricky enough to come by Friday when Mississippi State and LSU got the SEC baseball season started at Alex Box Stadium.

Just in case, Bulldogs pitcher Chris Stratton and his Tiger counterpart Kevin Gausman made sure just making contact was a challenge as well.

For most of nine innings, the two starting pitchers waged a duel with neither budging after allowing an early run. Stratton struck out a career-high 17 and Gausman matched his career-best with 11 Ks and they took turn hanging 0s on the scoreboard.

But the final inning belonged to the hitters – especially LSU's – in a wild finish to the first night of 30 league games.

Tiger second baseman JaCoby Jones' bases-loaded line drive to center field scored pinch-runner Arby Fields with one out in the bottom of the 10th inning to propel the Tigers to a 3-2 triumph.

"I was in the dugout and I looked up there and realized I was going to get a chance to win the game for us," said Jones, who also drove in LSU's first run with a first-inning double. "That got me excited."

Before Jones got that chance to get revved up and play the hero, two Tigers' seniors came through big.

With 10th-ranked LSU (15-3, 1-0 SEC) down 2-1 after Mississippi State catcher Mitch Slauter jerked a solo home run into the left-field seats off Nick Goody with two outs in the top of the frame, the Tigers had to solve Caleb Reed.

The Bulldogs closer snuffed out a ninth-inning threat when he coaxed Austin Nola into a fly ball. He jumped ahead of Tyler Hanover 0-and-2, but Hanover slapped a ground ball toward right field that Bulldogs' second baseman Matthew Britton smothered, but couldn't come up with.

With Hanover at first, Ty Ross laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to put a runner in scoring position. That brought up Grant Dozar, who had fanned three times against Stratton and looked progressively worse doing so.

Like Jones, Dozar wasn't fazed by what he'd done to that point, and on Reed's first pitch he drilled a line drive that kicked up chalk down the right-field line for an RBI double that knotted the score 2-2.

Grant Dozar

With Fields in to run for Dozar and pinch-hitter Tyler Moore at the plate, State coach John Cohen called for an intentional walk. But Reed's first pitch sailed away from Slauter, allowing Fields to scoot to third.

Cohen had Reed walk Moore and then Chris Sciambra to load the bases for Jones. After swinging meekly at Reed's first offering, Jones squared up the next one for the game-winner.

"You've got to keep battling because you know you're still going to get an at-bat later in a game like this," Jones said. "All SEC games are going to be close so you have to stay ready to come back home and get a big hit."

There weren't many hits to go around for anybody in the first nine innings.

LSU got to Stratton early, drawing first blood right off the bat and the Tigers had a chance to put up more before he quickly found his rhythm.

Sciambra worked Stratton for a leadoff walk in the bottom of the first inning, and raced around when Jones' veering liner to left field just escaped left fielder Tyler Fullerton's diving grasp for an RBI double.

With no outs and the two best hitters in the LSU lineup to deal with, Stratton buckled down. He struck out Mason Katz after an eight-pitch battle and then zipped three strikes past Raph Rhymes, the last on a tailing curve ball.

The inning ended when Austin Nola was the third strikeout victim, a trend that stuck around as Stratton fanned the side in the sixth and eighth frames. Six LSU starters struck out at least twice, with Katz and Dozar piling up three.

In one dazzling stretch, Stratton retired 16 LSU hitters in a row – 10 on strikeouts.

Kevin Gausman

The 20th-ranked Bulldogs (14-6, 0-1) didn't fare much better against Gausman, who, like Stratton, pitched into the ninth.

State's only damage in the first nine frames came in the second inning when Hunter Renfroe poked a one-out double over left fielder Jared Foster's head and Fullerton chased him home on a hot shot up the middle that Jones couldn't quite get to.

After that, Gausman surrendered only two more singles – Adam Frazier in the third and Renfroe in the seventh. He walked three batters, one more than he had entering the game, and left after issuing consecutive free passes with two outs in the ninth.

Nick Rumbelow came in to induce an inning-ending ground ball off Renfroe's bat.

After Goody got two quick outs in the State 10th, Slauter finally came up with the big hit on a 3-and-1 pitch that briefly gave the Bulldogs the lead, but it didn't hold up.

Hanover, Dozar and Jones made sure of that.

"You may see 29 more just like that one," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "This is the SEC. I told the newcomers after the game, ‘Welcome to the SEC, boys.' This is what it's like every night.

"If you don't come ready to play with that kind of intensity you're going to get beat. You might get beat anyway, even if you are intense and playing great because all the teams we play are outstanding."

The two teams come back Saturday for the middle game at 6 p.m. at the Box, with LSU's Ryan Eades set to oppose Bulldogs' left-hander Nick Routt.

SERIES UPDATE: LSU-Mississippi State


NOTES: Rhymes producing big offensive stats

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