OXFORD, Miss. – Nobody can ever accuse the baseball gods of not being fair.
They seem to always have a way of evening things out.
If you’re not sure about that, consider how Saturday’s game between LSU and Ole Miss played out.
In the middle game of a competitive SEC series, the Rebels prevailed 7-4 at Swayze Field in a game when they made their own breaks and caught several others.
The Tigers hit into four double plays, three that ended innings, and their bats went quiet after a promising start.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss’ final three runs to snap a 4-4 tie were the result of a fly ball that LSU center field Arby Fields got to but couldn’t corral to set up the go-ahead run and then a two-run home run off the foul pole in the seventh.
All that came a day after things seemed to work out most of the time in the fourth-ranked Tigers’ favor in a 4-3 13-inning victory in the series opener.
Now the teams head into a Sunday rubber game at 1:30 p.m. with LSU (37-11, 15-8) trying to win a series in Oxford for the first time since 2002.
“We didn’t play a bad game, but we needed to do a little bit more,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said after his team went the final 4.2 innings without scoring.
Before that drought set in – and the Ole Miss bullpen deserves major credit – LSU was on the verge of taking care of winning the series in two games, something the Tigers haven’t done against the Rebels since 2007.
No. 24-ranked Ole Miss (31-17, 11-12) scratched out a first-inning run when Tanner Mathis beat out an infield single, moved up on a wild pitch and a sacrifice bunt and dashed home on Alex Yarbrough’s tapper to shortstop Austin Nola that took a high enough bounce to negate the LSU infield being pulled in.
Tigers starter Ryan Eades seemed to shrug that off and cruised through two scoreless frames to give his team a chance to stick close.
LSU didn’t do much against Rebels starter Mike Mayers for three innings, and he struck out Nola to begin the fourth.
But Mayers created his own trouble when he walked Mason Katz and hit Raph Rhymes with a pitch. Tyler Moore zapped an RBI single to center field to tie the game and put runners on the corners, and Grant Dozar laid down a squeeze bunt that Ole Miss catcher Will Allen pounced on and had a play at the plate, but Rhymes evaded the tag for the go-ahead run.
|JaCoby Jones: 2 singles, 2 RBIs in LSU's 7-4 loss.|
Ty Ross rolled out to second base to move Moore and Dozar up a base and Tyler Hanover worked his way on with a walk to load the bases with two outs. JaCoby Jones rifled a 1-and-1 Mayers’ offering to left-center field to plate a pair of runs and give LSU a 4-1 cushion.
That seemed to give the Tigers momentum, but it turned out to be short-lived.
“After they had the tough loss (Friday) night, and then we jump out and got that big inning, I thought we were getting ready to take control of the game,” Mainieri said.
“Unfortunately, Ryan just couldn’t shut the door on them in the fourth inning.”
Allen skied out to center field to start the frame, but Zack Kirksey ripped a solo home run to right-center field to close the gap to 4-2.
Instead of stopping the bleeding there, Eades walked Auston Bousfield and Austin Anderson lined a single to right field. Will Jamison popped out to left field for the second out, but Eades fell behind Tanner Mathis 2-and-0 before giving up a solid single to right that plated Bousfield.
On that play, Mason Katz uncorked a throw to the plate, which allowed Anderson to advance to third base. That came back to hurt when Andrew Mistone hustled out an infield single that Nola smothered behind second base but couldn’t make a play on. Anderson scored easily from third base to even the score, 4-4.
“In the fourth inning, I fell behind a little bit,” said Eades, who left after the fourth inning for a no-decision. “They made me throw the ball over the plate and they hit the ball where we weren’t.
“I’ve got to do a better job when we take the lead right there of shutting them down and hanging up a zero.”
There were plenty of those for LSU after Ole Miss pulled even.
Nola started the fifth inning with a single, but was erased when reliever Tanner Bailey induced Katz into a 5-4-3 double play on a hot shot.
Moore whacked his second hit of the game to begin the Tigers’ sixth inning and Ross punched a one-out single to left to give LSU two runners on base for the second and last time of the game.
When Hanover worked the count full, Mainieri put Moore and Ross in motion. Hanover ripped a line drive to Jamison in right field and Moore never looked back to read the ball and was doubled up easily to end the inning.
That left Jones – who had two solid hits in his first two at-bats – standing in the on-deck circle.
|Tyler Moore: 2 more hits and an RBI, but 6th-inning base-running mistake proved to be costly|
“It was a hit-and-run and I was a little too concerned with scoring,” said Moore, who has four hits in the series. “That was my fault right there. I was being too aggressive.”
Added Mainieri, “He’s just a freshman and he’s going to make mistakes He just dropped his head and keeps running instead of stopping and seeing the relationship between the ball and the outfielder. If he had seen that the ball was going to be caught, he would’ve retreated back to second base.”
“That kind of took the wind out of our sails.”
After a Rhymes single in the eighth inning, Moore was stung again when he scorched a ground ball right at first baseman matt snyder that turned into a 3-6-3 double play. And the game ended when Hanover rolled into a 6-3 twin killing after Ross walked with one out in the ninth.
While the Tigers were busy giving up two outs on single swings, the Rebels were seizing advantage of some breaks.
Kurt McCune took over for Eades in the fifth and breezed through the first four hitters unscathed. But Jamison lofted a fly ball toward right center that Fields streaked toward and seemed to have tracked down, but when he slid for the catch, the ball squirted free for a double.
|Tanner Mathis: Collects 3 hits and drives in a pair of runs|
Mathis quickly capitalized when he ripped a single to center field to score Jamison and put the Rebels back in front.
In the seventh inning, Brent Bonvillain walked Allen on four pitches to open the at-bat and Preston Overby bunted him up a base against Kevin Berry. Bousfield worked Berry to 2-and-2 and then turned on an inside pitch and launched it to left field where it clanged off the pole for a two-run homer.
“We let them back in the game, they tied it, then scratched one across and we hit into a couple of double plays,” Mainieri said.
With the series, and potentially the overall lead in the SEC on the line Sunday, Mainieri will give the ball to freshman Aaron Nola, who is looking for his first SEC road win of the season.
Although the Tigers have spread 9.1 innings among several relievers, Mainieri said there is a full complement of arms ready.
“If Aaron Nola goes out and gives us five really good innings, I’ll be really happy,” Mainieri said. “The bullpen will be fine (Sunday). All those guys had a day’s rest.”