HOOVER, Ala. — Five LSU pitchers combined to one-hit Arkansas, leading the Tigers to the SEC Tournament Championship Game with a 3-1 victory Saturday at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
Hunter Newman kicked off the dominant pitching performance, holding the Razorbacks hitless through four innings of his first SEC start. Then with Kevin Berry, Will LaMarche and Joey Bourgeois in between, Chris Cotton capped it off to earn his 15th save of the season and his third this tournament.
"We get to stick around for another day," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "We're happy about that. The key to our game today was our pitching, which was absolutely phenomenal. To give a team like Arkansas one hit through nine innings was amazing."
It was an up-and-down outing for Newman, but one that ultimately garnered high praise from Mainieri. He retired the first six batters he faced before working himself into trouble in the third.
He walked Jake Wise to lead off the inning, and an errant pickoff attempt moved him to second. A sacrifice bunt advanced Wise to third before another error brought in the run without a hit. Brett McAfee blooped one into shallow right field, and Mason Katz failed to make an over-the-shoulder catch, allowing it to fall to the turf as the run scored.
Newman would walk one more batter before escaping the jam. He struck out his third batter of the game then got Brian Anderson to pop out and minimize the damage.
He escaped one more threat in the fourth. With two outs, he walked Jacob Mahan then hit Wise. A wild pitch advanced both runners into scoring position before he forced a weak grounder by Eric Fisher to avoid any more trouble.
"The first three innings you wouldn't have known he was a freshman," Mainieri said. "He was pounding the zone, keeping the ball down. He was like a machine out there. He was throwing well and then he just lost it there. But he recovered and got the final out."
After a leadoff walk in the fifth, Kevin Berry replaced Newman to start a string of four relievers that allowed just two base runners for the remaining five innings. Will LaMarche surrendered the only hit — a lead off single in the sixth — which also served as the final time a Razorback reached base.
LaMarche induced a double play, and the Tiger bullpen retired the final 10 batters in order.
"That's what we work on almost every practice," LaMarche said. "I really didn't have to think. For this to happen really boosted my confidence and created more energy for me. I just embraced the moment instead of trying to downplay emotions."
For the offense, another slow start transformed into a come-from-behind rally. LSU didn't get a base runner past first until the fifth inning, but a two-run sixth put the Tigers ahead for good.
Katz got it going with a lead off walk, then advanced to third on a Raph Rhymes blooper into the right-center gap. Then Christian Ibarra — who prolonged LSU's tournament campaign with a two-out, ninth-inning base hit on Friday — tied it up with a RBI-single to left.
"Coach told me to just put the ball in play and hit to the right side to avoid the double play," Ibarra said. "When I got down to two strikes, I was just trying to put the ball in play somewhere. I saw the hanging curveball, and I got the hit."
Tyler Moore, who brought in the game-tying run Friday, gave LSU the lead with a sharply-hit grounder to McAfee, the Arkansas SS. With Rhymes darting home from third, McAfee fired it to the plate, but the throw was late and LSU went ahead 2-1.
Ibarra brought in one more insurance run in the seventh-inning with a RBI-double to deep left-center. It likely could have been more, but Rhymes failed to step on second base. Forced to double back, Rhymes could only reach third, limiting what could have been a two-run triple into a one-run double.
"He just missed the bag," Mainieri said. "It's hard to explain how that could happen. It's the first time I've seen that happen in many years…Obviously it cost us a run, and Raph was so mad at himself and slightly embarrassed.
"These kids aren't perfect. I was trying to get a smile out of him, and he said ‘I'll smile if we win.'"
Rhymes was able to smile because that one run was enough as the LSU bullpen continued to dominate late in the game. LaMarche, Bourgeois and Cotton each retired the side in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
"It's huge. To throw a one-hitter against a SEC team is a feat in itself," LaMarche said. "For it to be the fourth game of the tournament is a confidence booster."
The win advances LSU to the SEC Tournament Championship Game for the first time since 2009. The Tigers defeated Vanderbilt 6-2 in that one before going on to win the national championship.
"This is what it's all about," Rhymes said. "We get to wake up in the morning and play for the championship. That's why I came back for my senior year. We're here to win championships and now we have the opportunity to do that."
Starting RF Mark Laird suffered a sprained ankle before the start of Saturday's game. For more information on his injury, click the link below.
Mark Laird sprains ankle
LSU one-hits Arkansas, advances to finals
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