Four unearned runs undo Tigers

The self-described roller coaster ride continues for the LSU baseball team in 2002, a season that has gone through the twists and turns of youth-driven mental mistakes, execution lapses and plain old baseball misfortune.<br> The latest decline came in the form of the 8-7 loss to Vanderbilt at Alex Box Stadium on Sunday.

It was the first time the Commodores (13-4, 2-1) have won a series against LSU (14-8, 1-2) since 1988 and the first time they've done it in Baton Rouge in 31 years.

 

After taking a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the eighth, the Tigers committed two errors in the ninth that let Vanderbilt back in the game. Four of the Commodores' runs in the game were unearned and the other four came from two Sean Luellwitz home runs.

 

But even if the late mistakes and costly homers could have been avoided, LSU coach Smoke Laval said he was still concerned about the plateau his team had reached.

 

"That doesn't bother me," Laval said of the three errors his team committed. "What concerns me is that we're not getting better. The bottom line is that we're just playing the game, not improving."

 

LSU managed only eight hits against six Vanderbilt pitchers, leaving eight runners stranded along the way. The Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the ninth inning only to blow the potential rally on a double-play ball from pinch hitter Jason Vargas.

 

The Commodores forced LSU into three double plays in the game.

 

"If Vargas gets a hit and we win the game, does it change the eight other innings?" Laval asked. "No, we still aren't getting better."

 

LSU overcame a 5-3 Vanderbilt advantage with four runs in the eighth inning but left the bases loaded. The Commodores used four different pitchers in the inning with Scott Shapiro (W, 2-0) getting Aaron Hill, the tenth batter of the inning, to fly out center field for the third out.

 

LSU starter Jake Tompkins settled in after serving up a three-run homer to Luellwitz in the first inning and a solo shot to lead off the fourth. After the second homer that gave Vanderbilt a 4-1 lead, Tompkins limited the Commodores to one hit over the next three innings – retiring the side in order in the sixth and seventh.

 

LSU drew to within a run in the sixth after Hill and J.C. Holt started the inning with singles off Vandy starter Steven Faulkner. Wally Pontiff then greeted reliever Chris Maultsby with an RBI single to right and moved into scoring position with Holt on a Maultsby wild pitch.

 

After Matt Heath drew a one-out walk to load the bases, Blake Gill hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the Tiger threat.

 

Vanderbilt got its first unearned run in the eighth to go up 5-3. Cesar Nicolas hit a flat grounder to Pontiff at third that looked like it would be the third out, but it went through his legs to bring a run in from second.

 

"We kicked the ball around," said Pontiff. "You can't win when you kick the ball around. I had one of the errors but you can't kick yourself. Nobody tries to play bad.

 

"We ended up having our chance to win the game and just didn't do it."

 

LSU reliever Brian Wilson (L, 3-2) replaced Tompkins and got the final out of the inning.

 

Maultsby's eighth inning started with him hitting Hill with a pitch and Holt following with a triple to left center that made the score 5-4.

 

Reliever Dean Bennett, the same Vandy pitcher who was ejected from a game with LSU last year for beaning Bryan Moore, replaced Maultsby and walked Pontiff. His wild pitch with Sean Barker at the plate put two Tigers in scoring position.

 

Barker sacrificed to left field to score Holt, tying the game, and move Pontiff to third. Heath put LSU in the lead with a triple to right center and Blake Gill made the score 7-5 when he launched a run-scoring double to center field.

 

Vanderbilt coach Roy Mewbourne went to the bullpen for left-hander John Scott, and LSU countered with righty pinch hitter Eric Wiethorn. Scott got his glove in the way of a shot up the middle from Wiethorn, leading to a 1-4-3 ground out.

 

Shapiro took the mound to face Darren Welch and gave up a walk before hitting David Raymer with a pitch. But with LSU looking to build its lead, Hill flied out to center to end the inning.

 

Worth Scott started the ninth for Vanderbilt with a single to center against Wilson. Jonathan Douillard followed with an apparent double-play ball to short, but Hill failed to get the ball from his glove to Holt covering second. The play left runners at first and second, both of whom advanced on a sacrifice bunt from pinch hitter Chris Broadus.

 

Scott scored from third when Karl Nonemaker single into centerfield, and a throwing error on Raymer allowed Nonemaker to advance to second.

 

After Wilson got Tony Mansolino to fly out to Hill in shallow left for the second out, John Kaye got his first hit of the day in five at-bats. His double to the right field corner scored the tying and go-ahead runs for the Commodores.

 

"This team rides an emotional roller coaster," said Pontiff. "Sometimes we ride a lead into a win; sometimes we fall. Coach Bertman and coach Laval have tried to stressed the sense of urgency to us, and that's something the team has to learn if we want to start winning these games."  


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