Two of those elements the Tigers have leaned most are clutch hitting and the comfort that closer Nick Goody provides when he steps on the mound. Added together, those two have created another go-to strength for LSU – winning close games.
Whether it was the law of averages or just the imperfect end to a weekend of frustration, the Tigers didn't get any of those three to work out right Sunday in the series finale against Vanderbilt at Alex Box Stadium.
One hit in the final 5.1 innings kept LSU from gaining momentum, Vandy's Mike Yastrzemski greeted Goody with a game-tying home run in the ninth inning and Tony Kemp's two-out single off the Tigers' closer provided the game-winner in the 10th as the Commodores claimed a 5-4 triumph.
With the win, Vanderbilt (26-25, 13-14 SEC) claimed the series, the first that third-ranked LSU (39-13, 17-10) dropped at home this season. The Tigers head into the final week of the regular season in third place in the SEC standings – a game behind Kentucky and half a game behind South Carolina, which hosts LSU starting Thursday night.
All of those numbers and facts took a backseat to a troublesome loss, though.
"This one is going to sting," Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. "This was a tough loss. This was the toughest loss we've had all year."
Tough because of the unexpected element of Goody blowing a save for just the second time in SEC play after he had been so lock-down good with 6 saves in one-run league victories.
Tough because LSU twice scratched out one-run leads only to cough them back up the very next half inning.
And tough because after Austin Nola's two-out RBI single in the fourth inning, the Tigers were a collective 1-for-20 against Vandy relievers Kevin Ziomek and Will Clinard.
That drought over the final 5.1 innings fit well with the Tigers' weekend as they managed only 21 hits and 9 runs.
Adding to Sunday's frustration was a wind blowing from left field to right field that knocked down several promising fly balls down, leading to 13 fly-ball outs.
"We swung the bats well (Sunday), despite what the scoreboard says," said Mason Katz, who drive in one run with a base hit, but also watched two well-struck balls turn into routine outs. "The wind knocked a lot of balls down. It was one of those unfortunate days. We fought back hard like always do, but we just didn't get it done offensively."
Vanderbilt wasn't spectacular on offense, either, but the Commodores did manage to jump ahead early when LSU starter Ryan Eades ran into familiar trouble in the second inning.
Conrad Gregor pummeled an 0-and-2 pitch to left-center field for a leadoff double and Eades hit Spencer Navin with a pitch. After a foul popout on a bunt attempt, Connor Harrell loaded the bases when his slow roller down the third-base line stayed fair for an infield single.
Vince Conde hammered an 0-and-2 pitch to center field for a sacrifice fly and Eades left another 0-2 pitch too fat against nine-hole hitter Jack Lupo, who slapped a base hit through the middle for a 2-0 cushion.
Eades pitched into the fifth inning when he allowed a third run. Yastrzemski whacked the first pitch of the inning into the field-field corner for a double and Anthony Gomez quickly cashed it in when he rammed a single to center field.
A 4-6-3 double play nearly got Eades out of the inning, but he walked two hitters in a row to load the bases and Mainieri lifted him for Nick Rumbelow.
"He could've been better, could've been worse," Mainieri said. "It was a step in the right direction. … He's still making bad pitches at bad times.
"He's got to get better. He has too good of stuff and too good of control to make those kinds of mistakes."
LSU seized on Commodore freshman Tyler Beede's mistakes to pull even and then take the lead.
With one out in the third frame, Nola and Arby Fields drew back-to-back walks to set Katz up for his RBI single. Raph Rhymes produced his second and last hit of the weekend when he yanked a ball that appeared headed past Conde at third base, but me dove and kept the ball on the infield single that loaded the bases.
Tyler Moore lofted a fly ball to shallow left field, and the speedy Fields scampered home with the tying run.
Then in the fourth inning, Grant Dozar worked Beede for a walk and moved up on Tyler Hanover's sacrifice bunt. Beede got JaCoby Jones on a fly ball that Lupo made a nice running catch on for the second out.
But Nola again delivered, lacing a single to left that scored Dozar for LSU's first lead since the ninth inning of the series opener on Friday night.
Eades allowed the tying run right after that, turning the rest of the game into a taut tug-of-war.
Pitching dominated the next several innings, with Tigers lefty Chris Cotton and Ziomek stifling the offenses.
LSU finally ended the standoff with an unearned run in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Pinch-hitter Alex Edward lit the fuse with a leadoff single and Conde kept things alive for the Tigers when he booted a sharply hit ground ball off Jones' bat against Clinard. Moments later, Clinard uncorked a wild pitch and Nola made that sting when he poked a fly ball to center field for sacrifice fly.
With Goody coming on, LSU was poised for another one-run SEC win.
But Yastrzemski battled him to a full count, fouled two pitches off and then launched a screaming liner into the right-field seats to knot the score.
"You can't try to bite too much off 3-2 with no outs," Tigers catcher Jordy Snikeris said. "I think he threw a perfect pitch. It was down at the knees. Yastrzemski just got a hold of it, something you just have to tip your hat to."
Goody recovered to get the next three hitters out, but LSU couldn't generate anything against Clinard in the ninth and the game went to extra innings.
Harrell lashed a one-out triple to the right-center field gap to put the Tigers back in trouble and Andrew Harris beat out a bunt to put runners on the corners.
Vanderbilt tried to squeeze Harrell home, but Moore gobbled up Lupo's bunt and fired a strike to Snikeris, who held his ground and applied the tag for the second out.
Just when Goody was about to escape, though, Kemp rolled a single through the middle to plate Harris with the go-ahead run.
That was enough, as Clinard mowed down three hitters in quick order in the 10th to complete the stunning Commodores win.
As tough as Sunday's loss and dropping the series were for LSU, there is still plenty to aim for with four games left.
The Tigers host Nicholls State at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday before heading to South Carolina to face another one of the four teams vying for the overall SEC crown.
"We're going to learn from this," Nola said. "We're going to bounce back stronger. It's tough for us to swallow this one but we have a lot left to play for the rest of the way.
Added Katz, "We know what our goals are and they're still right ahead of us."