Storm clouds gathered throughout the afternoon, and heavy rain began to fall in the sixth inning causing a 50 minute delay.
Shortly after the restart, lightning sightings postponed the action again during the eighth inning. Some young teams may have found it hard to keep its composure through all of the delays but the coaches prepared them for what turned out to be a very long day at the Box.
“I told our team yesterday that Sunday was a 70 percent forecast of thunderstorms,” said LSU head coach Paul Mainieri. “In order to win you have to get the game in, and the only way to do that is dodging the rain drops and putting the tarp on the field. It’s not a lot of fun taking that tarp on and off the field.”
The lengthy wait did not seem to affect the Tigers (28-16, 9-11-1 SEC) as shortly after the second restart LSU left fielder Jared Mitchell launched his second home run of the weekend over the right field scoreboard.
With a healthy 6-3 lead, LSU reliever Paul Bertuccini struck out the side to win the game.
“I was pretty nervous during the rain delay,” Mainieri said. “But [Bertuccini] really did the job for us in the ninth inning. I thought Mitchell’s home run was very important. I was counting hitters until [South Carolina first baseman Justin] Smoak was coming up to bat. That extra run sure felt good.”
Bertuccini replaced Verdugo after the first rain delay, earning his second save of the season. Bertuccini allowed no runs on just one hit and struck out four batters while Verdugo allowed three runs on seven hits and also struck out four.
As was the case all weekend long, the Gamecocks got out to an early lead.
Verdugo walked South Carolina shortstop Reese Havens to start the game, and immediately gave up a single to center fielder Whit Merrifield. South Carolina third baseman James Darnell added a hard-hit single to center field, and the Gamecocks led 1-0.
The Tigers took no time in answering. On the first pitch of the second inning, LSU right fielder Derek Helenihi homered into the left field bleachers to knot the score at 1-1
The Tiger offense built up a strong lead in the fourth and fifth innings.
Super freshman DJ LeMahieu knocked another home run into left field, scoring Matt Clark for a 3-1 lead after four innings. Ryan Schimpf’s lead-off triple in the fifth inning proved to be crucial as Michael Hollander and Helenihi batted in runs for a 5-1 lead.
South Carolina (31-14, 11-10 SEC) came in as one of the top teams in the SEC and it mounted a comeback just before the rain began to fall.
In the sixth inning, Gamecock left fielder Phil Disher crushed a home run deep into right field to cut the lead to three. Three batters later, South Carolina right fielder Harley Lail scored on a fielder’s choice single to make it a 5-3 game.
LSU seemed to be in trouble, but in a steady rainfall Verdugo struck out second baseman Scott Wingo, ending the inning and bringing the crowd at Alex Box to its feet.
“People are surprised that I stay optimistic and positive when there’s tough things, but it’s not a fake,” Mainieri said. “I saw things happening that didn’t happen last year and didn’t happen earlier this year. All of a sudden the kids are a little more confident, a little more experienced and they’re making these things happen, and that’s the difference between winning and losing.”
LSU plays its last nonconference home game Tuesday against Louisiana-Lafayette in Alex Box Stadium and SEC play continues over the weekend at Kentucky.