Explosive seventh inning propels Tigers, 8-3

HOOVER, Ala.-It was right at midnight when the bus carrying LSU's baseball team faded out of sight, leaving Hoover Metropolitan Stadium with a victorious bunch of Tigers whose prime concern was no doubt a good night's rest.<br><br> Getting another stellar outing from its pitching staff -- and a five-run, tide-turning seventh-inning rally from its offense -- fourth-seeded LSU forged a clearer path to the SEC championship game with an 8-3 upset of top-seeded South Carolina late Thursday night.

No one would suggest the Tigers didn't deserve a little rest.

The Tigers (40-17) won't play again until 1:30 p.m. Saturday, when they face the winner of Friday's Arkansas-South Carolina rematch. Along with second-seeded Alabama, LSU remains the only unbeaten squad in a field that dwindled from eight to six teams Thursday.

"We had some good swings early in the game," said LSU coach Smoke Laval, whose Tigers trailed USC 3-2 heading into the seventh. "We just told our guys, 'You've got to get better for your next at-bat.'"

Pre-tournament talk surrounded Laval's decision to pitch his ace, Lane Mestepey, in Wednesday's opener instead of having him ready for a potential matchup with mighty USC. But Laval -- whose weekend rotation of Mestepey (the Friday starter), Brian Wilson (Saturday) and Bo Pettit (Sunday) is among the league's finest -- never gave the matter any thought.

Laval said all along he would start the pitchers in their usual order, with Mestepey getting the call in the first game, Wilson the second and Pettit the third. So far, the tactic has paid off like a winning lottery ticket.

Wilson (9-4) followed Mestepey's complete-game, 2-1 victory over Auburn with a gutsy performance against the Gamecocks, who entered the tournament with the SEC's second-ranked offense. Wilson worked into the eighth inning, with a pair of run-scoring wild pitches -- one in the fifth, another in the sixth -- his only obstacles.

"It's been working," Wilson said of the rotation, "so why switch it up? Coach felt it best that Mestepey pitch the first game and come back with me in the second. Who knows what happens now?"

When USC (45-13) took two out of three games from the Tigers last month, the Gamecocks' victories came by scores of 4-2 and 4-3. Wilson said he feared another pitcher's duel was taking shape Thursday when LSU's offense could muster just three hits through six innings.

Not to fear. LSU exploded in the seventh, scoring five runs on four hits -- including David Raymer's two-run single for a 6-3 lead -- against Blake Taylor, who leads the league with 17 saves. Taylor was out of the game by the start of the eighth, and LSU was well on its way to another victory.

"He's been one of the top pitchers in the county all year," USC coach Ray Tanner said of Taylor, who, in addition to surrending four hits, issued two walks. "Obviously, he didn't have his best stuff tonight, but he's the guy you want in that situation."

If USC's go-to-guy is Taylor, LSU's is Jake Tompkins. Tompkins came on in relief of Wilson and, with two on in the eighth, recorded three straight outs to end the threat. When he headed to the dugout after striking out Landon Powell for the inning's final out, his teammates burst forward to congratulate him.

Mixed within the happy Tigers was Wilson, an ice pack strapped to his right shoulder and a mile-wide smile across his face.

"I love Jake to death," Wilson said. "I'd have him close a 2-0 game for me in the ninth. If I can't get them out, I know we've got someone else who can come in and do it for me."

Sean Barker's leadoff home run to left field, his second in as many days, brought the Tigers within 2-1 in the sixth. Two outs later, Matt Heath, apparently caught in a run down between second and third base, escaped -- thanks to a potential putout that bound off his back and into the LSU dugout -- and raced around third, cruising home for a score.

The baseball gods were smiling on the Tigers. Or maybe it was simply good coaching.

"That's my secret play," Laval cracked. "I can't tell you my secret."

Here's what's not a secret: Red-hot LSU, one win away from the SEC Tournament title game, is back in championship form.

Tiger Blitz Top Stories