In the morning’s opener, the Tigers were on the receiving end of a powerhouse pitching performance as Kentucky handed LSU a 5-2 loss. Kentucky starting pitcher Chris Rusin went the distance for the win (3-1), striking out six and giving up two earned runs on six hits and three walks.
LSU starter Austin Ross (2-2) allowed four earned runs on eight hits in six innings of work. The sophomore right hander recorded seven strikeouts and allowed no walks in the loss.
The Tigers dropped behind early in the contest, giving up a double to Chris Bisson to start the game. After a groundout moved him to third base, Bisson scored on a Keenan Wiley single to center.
LSU was unable to get on the board until the fourth inning. Trailing 3-0 entering the frame, catcher Micah Gibbs’ double scored Jared Mitchell from third. Leon Landry followed with an RBI of his own, driving in Gibbs to bring the Tigers within one run.
Marcus Ndiffer, who was perfect at the plate (3-3), pushed the visitors out in front for good in the sixth inning. Leading off for the Wildcats, Ndiffer homered to extend the lead to 4-2. In his next at bat in the game’s final frame, the Kentucky catcher’s sacrifice fly scored the team’s final run.
Rusin retired the side in order in the seventh to secure the 5-2 win, which tied the weekend series at one game a piece.
In the second game of the doubleheader, the Tigers jumped out to an early 1-0 lead and held on for a 3-1 victory.
After Wildcats (12-4, 1-2) starting pitcher Alex Meyer walked Jared Mitchell to open the action, the Tiger leftfielder stole second and third base. Tyler Hanover, who remains hot at the plate during his first weekend of Southeastern Conference play, scored Mitchell on a sacrifice fly to left field.
Mitchell, who swiped four bases, tied an LSU single game record and equaled the mark set by Wally McMakin against Michigan in 1975. The junior closed the weekend leading the SEC with 17 steals on the season.
Ryan Schimpf, who had been cold since his opening weekend showing, homered on a 0-2 count in the fourth to give the Tigers the lead for good at 3-1. The blast scored D. J. LeMahieu, who reached base on a one-out walk.
“When he hit that ball, I felt so good for the kid,” said Mainieri, referencing Schimpf’s recent struggles from the plate. “You felt like a thousand pounds were lifted off our back at that point because we had faced a couple of really good left handed pitchers in a row. Fortunately they hung a slider against Ryan, and it was a beauty watching it go out of the yard.”
Louis Coleman, who tossed 35 pitches out of the pen in Friday night’s win, got the start for LSU. The senior right hander allowed just one run, coming in the second frame on a single to right, which scored Troy Frazier from second after the left fielder reached base on a double.
Coleman (4-1) earned the win after he went the distance for the Tigers. The senior finished with seven strikeouts and no walks on 90 pitches. He also allowed one earned run on four hits.
“The story of the weekend was Louis,” Mainieri said.
“I told him after the game it was a performance Jared Bradford would have been proud of,” said Mainieri with a laugh. “After we lost the first game I decided to go with Coleman because I was hoping he could come out strong and give us five innings.
“After five he looked good, so I let him keep going. I went out to the mound in the sixth when Ndiffer was up and Louis begged me to leave him in. He executed the strategy to perfection and that was the big out of the game.”
Meyer (1-1) was tagged with the loss after he allowed three earned runs on two hits in five innings of work.
“Every weekend in the SEC takes a lot out of you,” Mainieri said. “I feel like you either win or you survive, and this weekend we survived. We won these two games because Friday night we had a tremendous starter on Friday and a tremendous relief pitcher.
“And, that same relief pitcher happened to be a tremendous starter for us today. Kentucky did a lot of things better than we did, but somehow we found a way to win two games.”
The Tigers (13-4, 2-1) will be back in action Tuesday, March 17 against Northwestern State at 6:30 p.m. at Alex Box Stadium.