Tigers slam Georgia, 13-4, for series sweep

Blake Gill became the third Tiger freshman to hit a pinch-hit grand slam this season as LSU powered its way to a 13-4 win over Georgia Sunday afternoon at Alex Box Stadium. The victory completed the Tigers' first sweep of a Southeastern Conference opponent this season and extended LSU's SEC win streak to four.

"(The sweep) is tremendous," LSU team captain Wally Pontiff said. "… Things really bottomed out for us with the Friday game against Mississippi State when we got really beat and the fans got really down on us. We really took it to heart that we needed to start playing better for ourselves as a team. That's when things started to turn around - when we realized that we were the solution to the problem. Things have just been rolling since."

Gill joined the ranks of freshman teammates Clay Harris and Jason Vargas when his bases-loaded blast in the fifth inning broke open a two-run game and opened the floodgates of LSU offense. Both Harris and Vargas also hit pinch-hit grand slams earlier this season.

Gill pinch-hit for Jason Columbus facing Bulldog reliever Jeffrey Carswell, who had yet to allow an earned run in 22 2/3 innings this season. Carswell's streak ended when Gill deposited a 2-0 changeup over the right-field fence for his first home run of the season and a 9-3 LSU lead. Driven home on the shot were Pontiff — who had doubled to open the inning — and Sean Barker and Dustin Hahn, who had both drawn walks.

"My teammates were ragging me a bit, since I didn't have (a home run) yet," Gill said. "It was really good to get them off my back and get (the homer) under my belt. I'm starting to feel my swing a little better and hopefully I'll take off from here and get some more."                      

LSU (24-13, 8-6 SEC) is enjoying its longest winning streak since last season and moved into third place in the Western Division of the SEC.

Starter Bo Pettit overcame a shaky start to pitch five strong innings in which he yielded only one earned run. In eight innings of work, Pettit gave up four runs (three earned), struck out seven and walked only one. The victory, his second this week, improved his record to 5-5 on the season.

"We really proved to ourselves that we could play three competitive, focused games in a row," said LSU head coach Smoke Laval. "It's positive vibes, I guess. Confidence. The kids now think that they can actually win ball games. They're playing to win and not not to lose."

The Tigers opened up Sunday where they had left off following Saturday's 14-4 rout of UGA (18-14, 8-7 SEC) by putting up four quick runs to open the bottom of the first. Rocky Scelfo and Aaron Hill hit consecutive singles, and a passed ball allowed them to take third and second, respectively. Georgia starter Jason Fellows (L, 1-1) could not seem to find the plate, walking Pontiff to load the bases and then walking in two runs by issuing consecutive bases-on-balls to Barker and Eric Wiethorn. Fellows exited the game after walking Wiethorn on four straight balls.

Reliever Matt Woods was able to get Matt Heath to strike out looking, but Columbus drilled an 0-2 pitch through the left side of the infield to drive home Pontiff and Barker. Catcher Chris Phillips grounded into a double play to end the inning, but the damage was done. LSU led 4-0 at the end of the inning, and would not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the game.

Pettit had control problems of his own in the second and third innings, allowing two Georgia runs in the second and one in the third. Pettit plunked Bulldog designated hitter Adam Swann to open the second, and a one-out single by Jon Armitage resulted in runners on first and second. Swann advanced to third on a fielder's choice by Clint Sammons and scored on a Pettit wild pitch. Second-sacker Marshall Szabo blooped a single behind second base to score Szabo before being picked off first by Phillips to end the inning.

"The first few innings I was missing my pitches a little bit," Pettit said. "I just had to bear down and find a groove. I kept throwing the ball in there and finding my spots."

The Tigers scratched another run in the bottom of the second on an RBI single by Barker, and UGA returned the favor with a run on an infield hit and a couple of bunts in the top of the third.

Pettit found his rhythm, however, and proceeded to dominate Georgia. He faced only three above the minimum over the next five innings, giving up a pair of singles and a walk while striking out six.

UGA answered LSU's explosion in the fifth with an inconsequential run in the top of the eighth, but the score only served to further prime the already sizzling LSU offense, which put up four more runs in the bottom of the frame.

Pontiff blasted a one-out, 0-2 Carswell offering deep beyond the fence in right-center for the Tigers' tenth hit of the game. LSU has totaled ten hits or more in eleven straight games, a significant turnaround from the beginning of the season.

"Hitting is definitely contagious," Gill said. "It's like in the (eighth) inning when Wally hit the home run. Our goal was to get double-digit hits. Wally hit the homer and we took off from there. Once you start hitting, everybody is going to hit."

Pontiff's homer was followed by a pair of singles by Barker and Dustin Hahn, and Heath added an RBI double before Gill ripped a liner up the middle to center to plate two more additional runs for the final tally. Gill finished the afternoon 2-for-3 with a run scored and six RBI.

Tiger reliever Jake Tompkins pitched the ninth, and after a leadoff walk retired the Bulldogs in order to close out the game.

"I'm excited for the kids," Laval said. "To see smiles on their faces after a weekend series, that's pretty neat."

"I think (the win) ought to get us back in all three of the major polls," Pontiff said. "I think we've dominated the past six games. There was no doubt this weekend who the better team was. We didn't win by chance or by them making errors. We just flat-out hit the ball, pitched and played good defense. That ought to be a statement to the rest of the teams in the SEC."

LSU will play its final non-conference home game of 2002 against Southern University Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m., with Tompkins likely getting the starting nod. The Tigers will then travel to Columbia, S.C. to face South Carolina, who took over the Eastern Division lead from Georgia by sweeping Vanderbilt over the weekend.

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