LSU starter Lane Mestepey, who yielded nine hits and five runs in his six innings of work, didn't pitch particularly badly, as the Commodores came up with only two extra-base hits all afternoon. But without sufficient run support from his offense Mestepey was straddled with his second loss of the week, dropping his record to 3-2.
"They just hit my pitches. There wasn't anything I could do about it," said a dour and tight-lipped Mestepey after the game. "There were five infield hits. All I could do was try to throw strikes and get them out. It didn't work."
Little (W, 4-1), a senior right-hander from Palm Harbor, Fla., had LSU hitters confounded the entire game, inducing many Tiger hitters to either ground or fly out much the same way Mestepey did in his last outing against the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Tiger base runners got past second only twice, and Little walked only two batters and hit one in his nine innings of work. He retired LSU in order six times, including the eighth and ninth innings.
"I didn't think we swung the bats really badly," said Pontiff. "Our fortune wasn't really good today. It kind of reminded me of the Sunday game of the Super Regional at Tulane (last year). We hit the ball really hard but just nothing seemed to go our way."
"They were better than us today," said LSU head coach Smoke Laval. "We had some good swings, but hit balls right at ‘em. We can't get a timely hit. Mestepey gives up nine hits, but four didn't leave the infield. One ball was hit well, but that guy (Matt Heath) hits third and it was his fourth or fifth homer. Other than that, they hit; we didn't."
Vandy scored its first run in the top of the second inning when first baseman Sean Luellwitz scored on Worth Scott's single to center. Luellwitz opened the inning with a chopper to left and advanced to second on a Mestepey wild pitch. He scored two batters later of Scott's two-out shot. Luellwitz was a thorn in the Tigers' side all afternoon, finishing 3-for-4 with a sacrifice, two RBI and a run scored.
LSU answered in the bottom of the third in the form of a Matt Heath home run. The Tiger left fielder's leadoff blast easily cleared the right-center field wall but would be one of the few hard shots LSU would hit during the game. Heath went 2-for-3 in the contest with a double to go with his homer.
Mestepey had faced only one above the minimum during the first three innings but gave up two runs on four straight hits to open the fourth inning. Shortstop Tony Mansolino chopped a dribbler back to the mound to open the inning, but Mestepey was unable to field the ball quickly and Mansolino reached first with a single. Left fielder John Kaye jumped all over a 3-1 Mestepey fastball, depositing it deep over the left-field fence for two RBI and a 3-1 Vanderbilt lead. Back-to-back singles drew a mound conference from pitching coach Dan Canevari, and Mestepey was able to retire the next three batters in order.
"My two-strike curveball wasn't there," Mestepey said. "I hung it up too much early in the game, and I think that hurt me down the stretch."
Vandy added two more in the fifth on station-to-station baseball that included a hit, two bunts, and a pair of sacrifices.
Little retired ten straight Tigers after the Heath home run, rarely going deep into any count and relying on his defense to snag the weak LSU balls that were put into play.
J.C. Holt scored the final Tiger run of the game after chopping a one-out hit and taking second when Commodore second baseman Scott Vanderhoff threw wildly into the LSU dugout. Holt took third on Aaron Hill's sacrifice to center, and came home when Wally Pontiff ripped a first-pitch single into the gap.
The hit lengthened Pontiff's hit streak to 13 games. First baseman Clay Harris followed with a single of his own but wound up stranded when Sean Barker flied to right. Harris struck out in his other three times at bat, and the hat trick increased his slump against Vanderbilt to seven strikeouts in eight plate appearances.
"We didn't go out there and strike out every single time," Pontiff said. "You can't ask to win every single time in baseball. It's too fickle of a game. We just want to come out and win tomorrow. That's the most important thing, taking the series."
Only two Tigers reached base in the closing third of the game, both in the seventh inning - Heath took second with his stand-up double to center and David Raymer reached when he was hit by a pitch.
Vanderbilt continued its small-ball production by scratching out two more runs in the seventh on two walks, a bunt and a sac fly. A triple, consecutive singles and a Tiger fielding error in the top of the ninth resulted in Vandy's last two runs and the final tally of 9-2.
"It's obvious we were flat today," said Pontiff. "Maybe we spent a lot of our energy last night when we were playing (Vanderbilt pitcher Jeremy) Sowers. We really got up for that game and I think we maybe took (Little) too lightly. Any starter in the SEC is a quality pitcher, and I think it may have opened our guys' eyes that even though we faced one good guy on Friday night, the next guy is just as good or better.
"I think we learned that every game in the SEC is important and we can't take any day off."
"We hit some hard balls, but the sense of urgency wasn't there," Laval said. "They get up for one game but not the other. Other than Wally, you don't know what you're going to get from day to day, at-bat to at-bat. That's why you have to stay on an even keel and not get juiced up for one game only to slink down for another."
LSU will face Vanderbilt at Alex Box tomorrow in the rubber match of the series in a game moved up to 11:30 a.m. to accommodate the Commodores' travel plans.
NOTEBOOK: Tiger catcher Chris Phillips took a foul ball off his throwing hand in the top of the sixth inning during LSU's loss to Vanderbilt last Saturday. Coach Smoke Laval told Tiger Rag Phillips may have broken fingers in the hand, resulting in "yet another injury for us. But that's all right, we're going to have to overcome it."