Wally Pontiff ripped a two-out, bases-loaded double to give the Tigers a one-run lead that would be the difference in the game. It was LSU's fifth time in the Houston series to have a two-out threat with the bases loaded but only the first time they were able to capitalize on it. LSU also pounded out a season-best 16 hits, with both Sean Barker and Blake Gill turning in three-hit performances. Pontiff finished 2-for-4 with three RBI.
Tiger starter Lane Mestepey (W, 1-0) struggled through two early innings but was able to recover and throw his fifth career complete game. The sophomore left-hander yielded five hits and three runs through his first two innings of work, but gave up only six scattered hits and one run over the next seven frames. His 119-pitch outing resulted in four runs (three earned) on 11 hits with three strikeouts and two walks.
Houston starter Gene Flores handcuffed LSU (8-2) early much in the same way Brad Sullivan did the previous night. The sophomore right-hander faced only one batter over the minimum through the first three innings, allowing only one hit while striking out four. LSU hitters got to him over the next three innings - slapping four hits and drawing a couple of walks - but were unable to capitalize, stranding six runners and not scoring once.
That all changed in the sixth. With LSU down 4-0, left fielder Matt Heath ripped a leadoff single to right and scored on first baseman Jason Vargas' stand-up triple into the right-field corner. Second baseman Blake Gill then blooped a single to shallow center, plating Vargas to cut the Cougar lead in half and chase Flores from the game.
Tiger designated hitter Eric Wiethorn slapped a single to left, and catcher Darren Welch was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Cougar reliever Ryan Wagner (L, 0-1) then fanned both David Raymer and J.C. Holt to bring Pontiff to the plate.
The true freshman right-hander battled the Tiger team captain to full count as the LSU and Houston fans battled for noise supremacy in the stands. Wagner looked around the horn at the base runners before serving up a pitch that Pontiff blasted to the right-center power alley, where both right fielder Anthony Scalise and center fielder Michael Bourn converged to attempt to catch the ball. It was uncertain as to whether the ball hit the wall or Scalise's glove, but it somehow wound up on the ground. The bases cleared of Tigers, Pontiff stood on second base and the Houston lead had been erased for good. The score was 5-4 LSU, the first Tiger lead of the series.
The Cougars (5-4) drew first blood in the bottom of the first when third baseman Jesse Crain came home on catcher Chris Snyder's single to left.
Houston struck for two more in the bottom of the second when Mestepey gave up back-to-back singles to sophomore DH Cole Bruce and Scalise. Bruce scored on a fielding error by Pontiff and Scalise came home when Hyung Cho grounded into a fielder's choice. Scalise scored the Cougars' final run in the fourth inning after reaching on a single and moving around the diamond on a pair of sacrifices and a double.
LSU added a run in the eighth when Rocky Scelfo reached base and scored on a couple of UH errors and an RBI single by Barker to make the score 6-4, LSU. Two more insurance runs came in the top of the ninth on a two-out, full-count double by Raymer, who had struck out three times in previous plate appearances. Raymer hit a similar game-winning, two-out, full-count, top-of-the-ninth double to beat the Centenary Gents in Shreveport Feb. 19.
Mestepey retired ten of the last 14 Cougar batters, allowing a runner past second only once. Left fielder Gabe Lucas opened the UH ninth with a leadoff single and stole second base before Crain and Cho both grounded out to short.
On the final play, Scelfo snagged Cho's bouncer behind second base and fired to Vargas for the put-out. In a heads-up play, Vargas flung the ball to Pontiff to catch Lucas between second and third. A brief run-down ended in Lucas being tagged out to seal the Tiger Victory.
Mestepey's performance was especially vital due to the fact that pitchers Jason Determann and Chad Vaught are both unavailable due to injury, and regular Sunday starter Jake Tompkins' status was downgraded from "questionable" to "improbable."
True freshman Clay Harris is likely to get the nod when the Tigers play the Cougars in the rubber match of the series Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.