Laval nonchalantly turned to sophomore left-hander Lane Mestepey, still basking in
the glow of his latest gem, and, with one eye on his audience and the other on the
first-team All-SEC pitcher, said, "Well, I don't know. How do you feel, Lane?"
Though the room full of reporters erupted in laughter, no one among the audience
would have been blamed for taking the coach's words to heart. Considering how
Mestepey has blown through the season with such ease, it's beginning to seem as if he's capable of almost anything.
Perhaps the greatest demonstration of Mestepey's star quality was presented
Wednesday evening at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. Pitching on only three days'
rest, Mestepey allowed five hits and went the distance in fourth-seeded LSU's 2-1 win over fifth-seeded Auburn.
So brilliant was Mestepey (11-3) that his offense needed just three hits -- one of
them a two-run home run by right fielder Sean Barker -- to score the victory against
Auburn ace Colby Paxton (8-5), who put together his best outing of the season.
The throw-back pitcher's duel, completed in one hour, 47 minutes, was LSU's shortest game of the year, leaving any late-arriving fans with little baseball to watch.
"Paxton could have probably only lost to one pitcher tonight," said Laval, whose Tigers (39-17) face top-seeded South Carolina (45-12) at 8 p.m. Thursday, "and it's Lane Mestepey. That was a Mestepey-Paxton game."
Mestepey made only 97 pitches, 66 for strikes, in the complete-game effort, his
fourth in seven starts. Paxton (116 pitches, 80 for strikes) was every bit as effective as his lefty counterpart, but Auburnâ?Ts 6-foot-3 right-hander was responsible for the pitch that resulted in the game's biggest hit.
After Wally Pontiff drew a fourth-inning walk to become LSU's first leadoff baserunner, Barker stepped in the box and took a pair of sliders for strikes. Then, on a no-ball, two-strike fastball left over the plate, Barker sent a line-drive homer over the left-field wall for a 2-0 lead.
"I was looking fastball all the time," said Barker, who finished 1-for-2. "(Paxton) left me a mistake over the plate and I hit it."
Barker's Tigers never scored again. They didn't have to.
Mestepey used his usual tactics -- staying ahead in the count, rising to the occasion
when necessary -- to handcuff the Auburn hitters. Only twice did the Tigers (34-23)
threaten to take the lead, each time finding an LSU defense waiting to slam the door.
In the sixth inning, Auburn, thanks to back-to-back errors by first baseman Blake
Gill and second baseman J.C. Holt, put runners at second and third with one out. But a right-on-the-money throw to home from shortstop Aaron Hill, who had fielded
a deep grounder by Javon Moran, put out Chuck Jerolman at the plate. Pontiff then
made a nifty snag of a Bobby Huddleston grounder, spun and threw to first for the final out of the inning.
"I thought Aaron Hill made the play of the day," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said. "That ended up being the ballgame."
Or maybe not. LSU's defense came up big again one inning later, with Hill fielding a grounder by Matt Grooms and turning it into a side-retiring, 6-4-3 double play. One batter before, Scott Schade's infield single scored Trent Pratt from third for the Tigers' lone run.
Mestepey made sure the Tigers scored no more. He allowed two base-runners over
the last two innings, but neither advanced past second base.
"I felt real good," Mestepey said. "My arm wasn't really tired. I just tried to go out there and keep my pitch count down as much as I could."
Jokes aside, Laval has maintained that Mestepey will not get another start in the SEC Tournament. Brian Wilson (8-4) will take the hill Thursday, and Bo Pettit (8-6) is next in line.
That said, Renfroe's Tigers couldn't have picked a worse time to play LSU.
Mestepey, Tigers down Auburn, 2-1, in Tournament
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