Somebody told the LSU baseball team there’d be days like these.
Of course, living enough of them over and over and over will get that message across pretty efficiently as well.
|Ty Ross: Game-winning single in the 9th inning|
Living on the edge has become the Tigers’ constant companion since the 2012 SEC season began, and the experience they have forged came in handy again Saturday when they took on No. 3-ranked Arkansas in the middle game of a weekend series.
Ty Ross hammered a first-pitch slider from Razorbacks’ reliever Barrett Astin into right field where Matt Vinson bobbled the ball, allowing Mason Katz to easily motor around from second base with the winning run in a 2-1 triumph at Alex Box Stadium.
The victory was LSU’s fourth by a run in league play and their sixth one-run game in the eight times the Tigers have stepped on the diamond vs. SEC foes.
The frantic finish overshadowed – but only slightly – a masterful performance by sophomore right-hander Ryan Eades, who allowed only five hits and the one run in 7.1 innings. Arkansas’ Ryne Stanek was just as nasty, striking out 10 in seven innings.
In the end, though, 12th-ranked LSU (21-6, 5-3 SEC) found a way to scratch out another nailbiter – another win in a game that last season would have been so elusive.
“It’s the SEC,” said Eades, who matched a career-best with 8 strikeouts. “Coach told us before the season, and we found out the hard way last season one-run games define a season.”
To get this latest one and also take the series from the Hogs (22-5, 5-3), the Tigers had to break through with some clutch hits after missing some very early chances against Stanek.
Katz began the ninth inning by lacing a 2-and-1 offering from Astin into left field, bringing up scalding-hot Raph Rhymes. Arkansas had to pitch to Rhymes to avoid moving Katz and the winning run into scoring position and it almost worked out perfectly when Rhymes chopped a ball to shortstop Tim Carver – at first glance a tailor-made double-play ball.
But the last hop bounded just high enough to give Katz enough time to make the throw to second base risky, so Carver’s only play was to first, where he barely got Rhymes.
Mainieri said he was reminding his senior shortstop that when he got a hit to be prepared to advance to second base if third-base coach Javi Sanchez waved Katz homeward.
That never happened because Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn ordered Nola to be intentionally walked. That brought Ross to the plate and he didn’t waste any time playing the hero.
“It was a slider or off-speed pitch and I stayed with it and hit it to right field,” Ross said. “I was looking to hit the ball that way.
“My head was completely clear going up to the plate.”
Ross’ early aggression was the blueprint after Stanek and Astin had teamed up to retire 20 of the previous 24 hitters.
“That was huge to not let them think they could come out and throw strikes by us,” said Rhymes, who was 3-for-4 and upped his SEC-best average to .490. “We had to show them we weren’t going to back down after those guys had dominated us most of the night.”
There was plenty of domination to go around, thanks to Eades.
|Ryan Eades: No decision, but 7.1 strong innings with 8 strikeouts|
The Razorbacks got to Eades for a two-out run in the second when Derrick Bleeker rolled a single through the left side to plate Matt Reynolds, who Eades had hit in the back with his first pitch of the frame.
Eades kept the damage minimal in that inning by fanning Jake Wise and that set the tone for the rest of his night. Arkansas got the leadoff man on base four times in Eades’ eight innings, but Bleeker’s single was the Hogs’ only hit in 11 at-bats after that initial runner got on.
“I just wanted to give my team the best chance to win,” Eades said after shrinking his season ERA to 1.91. “They had a great pitcher going for them and each guy who got on base, each one who got into scoring position was big. When they got guys on, I tried to bear down and not let them get any further.”
LSU scratched out one run on the first inning and frittered away a similar chance in the second before Stanek locked in.
JaCoby Jones punched Stanek’s first pitch of the night into left field and raced to third base when Grant Dozar yanked a hit-and-run single into right field. Katz struck out looking, but Rhymes picked him up by ramming an RBI single to center field.
That inning faded when Dozar was gunned down at third base on an attempted double steal and Nola fanned.
Ross started the Tigers’ second inning with a double to left-center field and moved to third on a wild pitch with no outs. Stanek stranded him there by striking out Tyler Hanover and Beau Didier and getting Jared Foster on a fly ball to center field.
“We had a couple of opportunities early in the game, particularly the one with a runner at third with nobody out and you just hope that doesn’t come back to bite you,” Mainieri said.
There might’ve been some teeth marks, but when it mattered most, Ross came up with the kind of hit LSU struggled to consistently produce last season.
“I tried to keep a clear head – nothing in my mind, just nothing,” Ross said. “Just tried to see the ball. I stayed back on that slider and hit it to right field.
“I saw the ball hit the ground and I just kept running. I was yelling and running and yelling.”
“That’s a pretty great feeling,” Ross said. “Every SEC series is tough and this one is no different. We’ve got the win and now we need to come out and stay focused and try to get the last game.”
The Tigers go for the sweep when the teams wrap up the series with a 1 p.m. first pitch on Sunday.