LSU faced a bit of bad luck Friday in a 5-4, extra-inning loss to Kentucky.
The No. 1 Tigers (22-4, 4-3 SEC) seemed to have the game-winning hit in the 11th inning, a rope off the bat of Conner Hale with the bases loaded. But the ball struck Alex Bregman between first and second, ending the inning and the threat.
Kentucky (17-9, 3-4) would go on to score two runs in the next half-inning to escape with a 5-4 victory. And though the Tigers could reasonably just accept it wasn’t their night, Paul Mainieri wanted all the blame.
“We didn’t play fundamentally sound tonight,” Mainieri said. “That’s just coaching. I somehow have to have them more prepared for when they come up. They need to be able to react to what happens in the game a little bit better.”
Mainieri mostly regrets not removing Jared Poché earlier.
Poché started hot, retiring the first 12 batters he faced. Kentucky didn’t get a hit until the fifth inning, and the Wildcats were held scoreless until the seventh.
But that’s when UK finally started to explode offensively. Kentucky tagged Poché for three runs on five hits, overcoming a 2-0 deficit at the time. Poché wouldn’t make it out of the inning, and an outing that began so promising quickly became a nightmare.
“It kinda turned on us a little bit,” Poché said. “I was confident. But it just didn’t work out for me tonight.”
LSU would have to fight back to force extra innings. Mark Laird singled with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Conner Hale reached on a throwing error by the third baseman, and that allowed Laird to score from first, tying the game.
From there it went into extra innings, and LSU’s best chance to end it came in the 11th.
Jake Fraley and Jared Foster each singled to start the inning, but Greg Deichmann grounded into a double play to make two outs. Kentucky intentionally walked both Laird and Bregman to load the bases, before Hale’s ill-fated liner struck Bregman to make it all for naught.
Kentucky took advantage of the new life with a two-run 12th inning. Closer Jesse Stallings stayed in the game for his fourth inning of work and retired the first two batters he faced.
But Kyle Barrett kept the inning alive with a single, and Evan White got hit to put two on. Ka’ai Tom broke open the tied game with a two-run double down the right field line.
“Teams get defined by these one-run games,” Poché said. “We were just on the wrong side of the table today.”
LSU nearly rallied in its final offensive inning.
Kentucky committed a pair of errors in consecutive plate appearances. Chris Chinea then laid down a sacrifice bunt to put a pair in scoring position. Jake Fraley drilled a sacrifice fly to the right field warning track to bring the deficit to one.
LSU had the game-tying run on third, but Foster grounded out to short to end the game.
“We’re going to get better,” Mainieri said. “We’ll learn from this. The fundamentals of the game hurt us tonight, and get back to the basics.”
The Tigers can look back at one other bizarre play as a missed opportunity.
Chris Sciambra sent a high pop fly to right-center field with runners on first and second, one out in the second inning. The ball landed and bounced over the fence for a ground rule double. But Foster thought the UK outfielders might make the catch, so he ran back to first to tag.
Sciambra ran past him, and that resulted in an out. Foster still ended up on third, but Laird popped out in the next at-bat to end the inning.
“I didn’t know it happened until after it happened,” Sciambra said. “I was thinking three and I guess he was going to tag up. Honestly, I thought it was going to go over the fence or be caught and I think he was thinking the same thing. Just a weird and unfortunate play.”
LSU has now lost consecutive series openers, after dropping Game 1 last weekend against Arkansas. The Tigers have only twice won a series after losing the first game, one of those times coming against the Razorbacks.
LSU will get its shot at vengeance Saturday night at approximately 6:30 p.m. Alex Lange, who’s undefeated and leads the starters in ERA, will make the start.
LSU falls to Kentucky in extras, 5-4
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