LSU walks off to take opener against A&M

Danny Zardon's walk-off single lifted No. 1 LSU to a 4-3 victory Thursday against No. 2 Texas A&M to take sole possession of first place in the SEC.

Danny Zardon didn’t even travel with the team to Georgia last weekend, but he was the hero on Thursday.

Zardon delivered a walk-off single to give No. 1 LSU a 4-3 victory against No. 2 Texas A&M at Alex Box Stadium. The former starter came on as a pinch-hitter in the seventh and came through with the game-winning hit in his next at-bat.

“I knew I was going to get a chance to do something good for my team,” Zardon said. “I just put a good swing on it and gave our team a good win.”

After blowing a one-run lead in the top of the ninth, LSU came out swinging in the bottom. Jake Fraley dropped a single to right field, but was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double. Jared Foster followed him with a single of his own, then took second on a wild pitch.

That brought Zardon to the plate for only his eighth at-bat in the month of April, none of which before Thursday had come against an SEC team.

Zardon said he was looking for a slider from A&M reliever Andrew Vinson. That’s exactly what he got on a 2-1 count, and he barely squeezed his hit inside the third base bag.

The umpire called it fair, and the near-capacity crowd erupted with cheers as Foster crossed the plate.

“I’ve definitely had a chip on my shoulder,” Zardon said. “It’s an awesome feeling. It was good to get a big hit.”

The win puts LSU (36-6, 13-5 SEC) in sole possession of first place in the SEC. The Tigers will aim to clinch the series against Texas A&M (36-6, 12-6) in Game 2 Friday night at 7 p.m.

Of the seven games these teams have played since A&M joined the conference, six have been decided by one run.

“What you saw was a battle between two very evenly matched teams,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “I told [A&M coach Rob Childress] after the game, ‘I think we’re going to have games like this for the next 10 years, so we better get used to it.’”

The victory for LSU might’ve come earlier if not for a blown save.

Jesse Stallings entered with a 3-2 lead in the ninth. He surrendered a triple to the first batter he faced, and Texas A&M tied it with a single in the next at-bat. Stallings faced one more batter — a sacrifice bunt — before exiting the game.

LSU turned to former starter Jake Godfrey to hold the tie, his first relief appearance in conference play. He induced a groundout but walked the next two batters he faced, leaving the bases loaded for Collin Strall.

This marked Strall’s first appearance in an SEC game since March 29, when he allowed two runs in 1/3 inning against Kentucky. The result was much more positive this time around, as Strall struck out A&M pinch-hitter GR Hinsley to end the threat.

“It wasn’t stressful,” Strall said. “Coach Mainieri told us to be loose, because the looser team would win tonight. He had confidence in me, so I was just trying to fill the strike zone.”

That marked the second consecutive inning A&M left the bases loaded. It was Parker Bugg that escaped that jam in the eighth, striking out Hunter Melton and preserving LSU’s one-run lead at the time.

LSU starter Jared Poché was in line for the win until that blown save in the ninth. He did fall behind early though. A&M struck for a run against him in each of the first two innings.

But Poché settled in after that, retiring nine straight at one point. He finished seven innings, allowing two runs on six hits, with one strikeout and no walks.

“I just focused a little more [after the second inning],” Poché said. “I was able to execute the pitches and keep them off balance.”

LSU had to overcome that early deficit though. The Tigers had only two hits through the first three innings before finally coming through in the fourth.

Conner Hale got that rally started with a one-out walk. Kade Scivicque singled to put runners on the corners, and Hale would score on a groundout by Andrew Stevenson. Chris Chinea tied it with a single to left.

LSU took the lead in the seventh. Fraley walked to start the inning, and he moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt. Mark Laird grounded back to the mound, and an errant throw to second allowed Fraley to score, giving LSU a 3-2 lead.

That would hold up until the ninth, but LSU still came away with the victory thanks to Zardon’s heroics.

“It was a tremendous college baseball game,” Mainieri said. “How does it get any better than this?”

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