Windows of opportunity aren’t bound to be plentiful in a matchup of aces in the Super Regional round.
Mississippi State created some runs with the handful of chances it got against LSU’s Alex Lange and the Tigers frittered away three similar openings vs. Konnor Pilkington Saturday night at Alex Box Stadium.
When the game got to crunch time, though, the Tigers dug deep, got help from its raucous capacity crowd and came up with the kind of magic the program has found much more often than not in NCAA Tournament baseball.
With Kramer Robertson setting things up with a leadoff walk, Greg Deichmann breaking the ice with a two-run double and Michael Papierski chasing in the go-ahead run on a first-pitch sacrifice fly, LSU stormed back from a three-run deficit with a four-run 8th inning to topple the Bulldogs 4-3.
Zack Hess survived a tense 9th inning after allowing a leadoff single and struck out pesky State leadoff hitter Hunter Stovall on three pitches -- a knee-bending curve ball and then two mid-90s fastballs -- to nail down the Tigers’ 15th win in a row.
This one puts LSU (47-17) one step away from a return to the College World Series, with Game 2 of the Super Regional set for 8 p.m. Sunday.
Robertson was in the throes of a frustrating night when he stepped into the batter’s box in the 8th to face Bulldogs’ reliever Peyton Plumlee, who took over for Pilkington with two out and no outs in the 7th and snuffed out a third LSU threat when it had a runner at third base with less two outs. http://www.scout.com/college/lsu/story/1784065-2020-texas-catcher-commit...
Robertson, 0-for-3 at that point, let the first two pitches go by for balls, looked at a strike and then let the next two offerings go by for a walk. Cole Freeman skied out to center for the first out before Antoine Duplantis zipped a line drive just over shortstop Ryan Gridley’s reach for a single.
Greg Deichmann took the first pitch out of the strike zone and then blasted an opposite-field double into the left-field corner to plate both teammates and whittle State’s 3-0 lead to 3-2.
Bulldogs’ coach Andy Cannizaro lifted Plumlee for Riley Self and he immediately fell behind Zach Watson 2-and-0. LSU’s emerging star center fielder rammed the next pitch to left field to send Deichmann scurrying home with the tying run.
Beau Jordan followed with a hit-and-run single that put Tigers on the corners and Cannizaro walked Josh Smith to load the bases. Papierski jumped all over the first pitch he saw and pumped it to deep center field to score Watson easily with what turned out to be the winning run.
In the 9th inning, State's Elijah MacNamee poked a leadoff single to right field and moved into scoring position with the potential tying run on Josh Lovelady’s two-strike sacrifice bunt. But Hess got nine-hole batter Cole Gordon on a weak roller to Freeman and then won the battle with Stovall to slam the door.
Prior to the late-inning magic, the Tigers advanced a runner to third base three times with less than two outs but none of them scored. Two were lost on the base paths and the other stranded as Pilkington’s flirting with fire never burned him.
The Bulldogs (40-26) picked up what appeared to be a pair of massive insurance runs in the 8th inning when Lange finally crumbled a bit.
With one out, Stovall rammed a double to right-center field -- the Bulldogs’ first runner to advance past first base since a shaky opening frame for Lange. http://www.scout.com/college/lsu/story/1784102-gallery-lsus-dramatic-com...
LSU coach Paul Mainieri issued an intentional walk to slugger Brent Rooker, a strategy that worked for a batter when Lange won a long battle with Ryan Gridley with his 10th strikeout of the night.
Cleanup man Cody Brown turned the worm, though when he laced a 1-and-0 offer that twisted toward the foul line just far enough to elude Duplantis for a two-run double and 3-0 cushion.
State drew first blood in a shaky 1st inning by Lange, but even then he managed to choke off any heavy damage.
With one out, Lange pitched delicately to Rooker, the SEC Player of the Year, and issued a walk. The Tigers’ ace jumped in front of Gridley 0-and-2, but the Bulldogs’ shortstop fouled off a pair of pitches before blooping a single just over the infield.
Uncertain with his curveball location early, Lange walked Brown to load the bases, prompting a visit from pitching coach Alan Dunn. On the first offering to Jake Mangum, Lange drilled State’s center fielder in the side to force in a run and quiet the capacity crowd.
The home faithful revved back up as Lange found his command and struck out Hunter Vansau and MacNamee consecutively to put the fire out. From then until the trouble in the 8th, Lange faced 20 Bulldogs and retired 18.
Between State’s two innings that yielded runs, LSU endured three bouts of frustration to remain scoreless.
Duplantis whipped a leadoff single in the 4th inning and Watson joined him on base with the second hit of the frame to put runners on the corners with one out. Pilkington coaxed Jordan into an infield popup and then survived a wicked swing from Josh Smith when a fly ball that seemed destined for the right-field bleachers died in the wind and Vansau hauled in it with his back to the fence.
An inning later, Papierski led off with a double and moved up on Jake Slaughter’s perfectly executed bunt. On a chopper down the third-base line off Robertson’s bat, Papierski got hung up in no-man’s land and froze and was quickly tagged out by Brown for the second out. Freeman chopped out to second to end the threat.
Finally in the 7th inning, LSU squandered its best chance and seemed to be dead in the water. Down just 1-0, Jordan led off with a seeing-eye single, Smith walked and both runners moved up on Papierski’s bunt.
Slaughter sent a fly ball that hovered for a quite a while as it carried to mid-range center field where Mangum hauled it in. Jordan tagged on the play and rumbled home, sliding head-first, and was tagged out on a bang-bang play that was reviewed and upheld.
State expanded its lead in the 8th, but Hess prevented any more damage when he fielded a comebacker and threw Vansau out at first base, setting the stage for the Tigers’ rally.
LSU will send senior left-hander Jared Poche (10-3, 3.13 ERA) the mound Sunday looking to finish of the series.