Streak extended

LSU continued its winning ways Thursday night, as an offensive explosion in the fifth and sixth innings led the Tigers to an 8-2 win over Vanderbilt.

The win extends LSU’s win streak to 18 and improves the team to 2-0 in SEC tournament play.

The Tigers (41-16-1, 20-11-1 SEC) also improved their SEC tournament record against Vanderbilt to 3-0 all-time.

“This was a pivotal game for us. It put us in the final bracket where someone has to beat you twice, and that is a very comforting thing,” said LSU head coach Paul Mainieri. “It takes some stress off of your pitching staff.

“This team amazes me more everyday. That first inning looked like their pitcher was going to overmatch us, but you wouldn't have been able to tell that in the dugout. They were not in a panic, and were able to piece together some great hits."

For the second day in a row the Tigers came to life with a four-run inning, this time in bizarre fashion.

With two runners on base, LSU centerfielder Leon Landry smacked a single to right field. The hit scored Derek Helenihi, and as DJ LeMahieu headed for third, the throw missed wildly and entered the stands. The error scored LeMahieu and advanced Landry all the way to third.

The next play was even stranger.

Ryan Schimpf hit what seemed to be a sacrifice fly deep to right field, but Vanderbilt right fielder Dominic De La Osa lost the ball in the sun and missed it. Landry scored, and once again a Vanderbilt throw to third base missed and entered the stands, allowing Schimpf to score.

The strange series of events gave LSU a 4-1 lead to start the fifth inning and then the Tigers broke things open in the sixth inning.

Designated hitter Blake Dean and catcher Micah Gibbs opened the inning with back-to-back singles, bringing Helenihi to the plate.

The junior transfer from Livermore, Calif. gave LSU fans something to cheer about as he crushed a three-run homer over the left field wall, extending the lead to 7-1.

“Coach told me to hit the ball the other way,” Helenihi said. “I was looking for a fastball to hit to right-center and get the runners around, but he left his slider up and I put a good swing on it and got my barrel out and hit it well.”

Vanderbilt (38-19, 16-15 SEC) attempted to rally in the seventh inning, only to fall short. 

The Commodores loaded the bases on Martin following a walk, an error, and a base hit to right field. Parker Hanks added his second RBI of the night with a sacrifice fly to center field.

LSU recovered however, and stranded two Vanderbilt runners to maintain a 7-2 lead.

Blake Martin (5-3) was effective in earning the win, although he did not strike a single batter out. The junior pitched seven complete innings, allowing two runs on four hits.

“I just came in and tried to get as deep into the game as I could,” Martin said.  “In tournaments, you want to save your pitching as much as possible. I just tried to throw strikes. I thought our defense was amazing. Once we got those seven runs, I still tried to throw strike and let them put the ball in play.”

Paul Bertuccini replaced Martin in the eighth inning and struck out the side and then the Tigers’ ace, Jared Bradford, took over in the ninth, allowing one hit before striking out two batters to end the game.

The Tigers got a final insurance run in the ninth when LeMahieu led off the inning with a standup double to right field and advanced to third base on a wild pitch. Schimpf came to the plate and earned his second RBI of the game with a hard-hit sacrifice fly.

LSU remains in the SEC tournament’s winner’s bracket and will get Friday off for their efforts.

The Tigers return to action Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against either Ole Miss, Kentucky, or Alabama.

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