HOOVER, Ala. – For the LSU baseball team, the options were limited Thursday.
One was pretty attractive, and the other, well…
“None of us wanted to practice for the whole week,” Tigers senior third baseman Tyler Hanover said. “We’d rather play games.”
They played one Thursday and because LSU was so dominant against Ole Miss, there’s more baseball to play at the SEC Tournament.
The No. 2-ranked Tigers extended their stay by throttling the Rebels 11-2, which matches LSU’s most lopsided win against a league foe this season – also over Ole Miss, 12-3 on May 6.
Hanover sparked a 17-hit attack with a career-best 4-for-5 performance, Austin Nola was a sparkplug when it mattered most with three hits and three runs scored and Jordy Snikeris came off the bench to chime in with a two-run double and a two-run home run in the final two frames as the Tigers blazed into a quarterfinal rematch with Mississippi State at 3 p.m. Friday.
|Gausman: 7 solid innings as he holds Ole Miss in check for his 10th victory|
With all that run support, LSU ace Kevin Gausman barely had to sweat and cruised through seven innings on the way to his 10th victory of the season.
And perhaps the biggest sign that things are going in the Tigers’ direction was the return to full duty by catcher Ty Ross. He was behind the plate for the first time since an appendectomy on May 12 and delivered a huge two-out RBI single in a two-run first inning, followed by a run-scoring ground ball in the third inning.
So now, instead of bussing back to Baton Rouge and spending time on the practice field until the NCAA Tournament field is revealed on Monday, the Tigers (43-15) have more work to do.
“We wanted to come out and set the tone and show our young guys that you play for these kinds of games,” Nola said. “Elimination games are when you give it everything you’ve got. There’s no holding back. We came out and let it all hang out and that’s when this team plays it’s best.”
Hard to argue after LSU jumped ahead of the Rebels (35-24) and Gausman baffled them until the Tigers offense finally erupted.
Nola got LSU revving right off the bat against Ole Miss starter Tanner Bailey when he zapped a leadoff single into center field. Grant Dozar’s popup into shallow center field found no-man’s land for another single and Mason Katz hustled down the line on a well-placed bunt for a base hit that loaded the bases.
Raph Rhymes ripped the first offering from Bailey on the screws, but right at Rebels first baseman matt snyder – a deflating first out. Tyler Moore made sure the Tigers had something to show when he pumped a fly ball to center field for a sacrifice fly to score Nola.
That brought up Ross, who had pinch-hit against Mississippi State the day before and struck out to end the game. He got comfortable looking at a few pitches and then whipped a single through the middle to give LSU a 2-0 cushion.
“I was very excited to get back on the field and play some baseball,” Ross said.
“I worked myself into a two-strike count and I was trying to hit something hard on the ground the other way and I ended up getting it through the middle.”
Which meant Gausman had a two-run advantage before he had thrown his first pitch.
“It’s really easy when you have a lead so it’s huge in the first inning when your team puts up 1 or 2 runs,” Gausman said. “You don’t feel like you have to go out and strike everybody out.”
Good thing because Ole Miss did just enough to pester Gausman in most innings, especially Alex Yarbrough and Auston Bousfeld.
The Rebels didn’t go in order against Gausman until the seventh, his last inning. Yarbrough had a pair of one-out singles that didn’t lead to anything.
Bousfield, on the other hand, led off two frames with hits, scored the Rebels’ first run in the second on Will Allen’s sinking liner to center field and drove in the second run in the sixth inning with a solid single after a walk and wild pitch.
Those two combined to go 5-for-7 vs. Gausman, while the rest of the Ole Miss order was 2-for-22.
The Tigers benefitted from a little more balance, strong small-ball execution and a lot more production late in the game.
Katz began the LSU third inning with a walk and Rhymes rifled a single to right field – clearing Snyder’s glove this time – to put the Tigers in business. Moore came through with another effective plate appearance, bunting both runners up.
Ross nearly collected his second hit in as many at-bats, but had to settle for an RBI groundout when Yarbrough made a dazzling diving stop for a 4-3 putout.
|Nola: 3-for-5 with 3 runs scored & a key RBI single to trigger a 5-run rally|
Bailey and reliever Chris Ellis didn’t budge much after the three early Tiger runs, twice retiring Nola in RBI situations – hold onto that thought.
It wasn’t until the sixth inning that LSU scratched out another run, again relying on good execution. Hanover whistled his third hit to left field to light the fuse and he scooted to second base on Arby Fields’ second sacrifice bunt of the day. A wild pitch moved Hanover to third base and Nola walked, putting runners on the corners.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco brought in Aaron Greenwood to face the left-handed Dozar, and on a 1-and-0 pitch, the senior DH pushed a bunt to the right of the mound that Greenwood couldn’t handle cleanly enough, allowing Hanover to touch the plate for a 4-1 lead.
The Rebels carved out their run in the sixth inning to hang around, but only briefly.
Hanover jump-started LSU again in the eighth inning with a one-out single and Fields walked to again bring Nola up in a situation to chase in a run. This time the Tigers’ steady senior shortstop delivered, ripping a double down the left-field line to send Hanover rambling home with an insurance run.
A change on the mound brought Rebels southpaw Dylan Chavez into the fire and LSU coach Paul Mainieri countered by sending Snikeris up to pinch-hit for Dozar. That moved turned into gold when Snikeris unloaded a double to left-center field to plate two more runs and remove most remaining drama.
For good measure, Katz, Rhymes and Moore peppered Chavez with consecutive singles, the last two scoring runs to cap a five-run outburst.
Snikeris came back up in the ninth inning after Nola stroked a single with two outs. Bianco brought in Josh Laxer and Snikeris greeted another reliever with some thunder, jacking out a two-run homer to left field – LSU’s first bomb of the tournament.
|Jordy Snikeris: After sitting for 7 innings, he comes off the bench to go 2-for-2 with 4 RBIs|
“Coach told me whenever they went with a lefty to be ready,” Snikeris said. “There were runners on base when I got up there and he told me ‘I’ve been waiting for this chance for two days, so go up there and do the job.’ I was excited for the chance and put a good swing on it.”
Snikeris’ home run was the last of a lot of good swings for LSU, which matched its season-high for hits in a game against an SEC opponent.
That came a day after three Mississippi State hurlers stymied the Tigers on five hits in a 3-2 loss. LSU hitters also struck out only four times after fanning 11 times on Wednesday.
“You can’t let good pitching like that get your confidence down,” Nola said. “We weren’t down and we went up there loose and relaxed.”