When Chad Jones took the mound for LSU (33-12, 14-7) with two on and no outs in the eighth, head coach Paul Mainieri was on the edge of his seat.
“I didn’t know if he was going to go in there and walk eight guys in a row,” said Mainieri with a laugh.
Of course, anyone who was at Alex Box on Sunday afternoon knows that was not the case.
Jones, who had not pitched since his senior year of high school, struck out Auburn’s four and five hole hitters with the bases loaded.
“He was our secret weapon,” Mainiriei chuckled. “[Pitching coach] David Grewe had been telling me to put him in for about a month, so this past week we gave him a look and decided that he would get a chance.
“I was really pleased with what I saw. He got the crowd into it and it became a pivotal point in the game for us, so he will definitely see more opportunities.”
Jones allowed one hit and a pair of strikeouts in two-thirds an inning of work.
“Anything I can do for this team, I will do it,” said Jones after Sunday’s win, smiling from ear-to-ear. “When coach told me to get warm, I just knew that I could not be nervous.
“I think that now people see what I can do for this team.”
Mikie Mahtook got the ball rolling for LSU in the bottom of the second with a single to left center. Micah Gibbs walked to set the stage for Buzzy Haydel, who hammered a ball down the left field line to score Mahtook from second.
Gibbs would score on a fielder’s choice before Jared Mitchell struck out to end the inning, putting the Tigers out front, 2-0.
After a pair of strikeouts to open the third, Hunter Morris followed Casey McElroy’s single with a home run to right field, tying the game at 2-2.
The scoring would take a big turn for both sides in the fifth, seeing Auburn open with a pair of runs in the top of the frame before LSU responded with four runs on four hits in the bottom half.
Paul Bertuccini relieved LSU starter Austin Ross midway through the inning, seeing Ross finish with four runs, all earned, on six hits over 4.1 innings of work.
“We turned Ross around after we pitched him midweek,” Mainieri said. “We expected him to go about 70 to 75 pitches and keep us in the ball game, and he did just that.”
After striking out the first batter he faced, Bertuccini advanced a runner on a wild pitch, walked a batter and hit a batter, putting the visitor’s ahead 4-2 in the process.
Yet, Auburn would go to their pen in the frame as well, seeing Price leave the game after going 4.1 innings of work. The right-hander allowed four runs, all earned, on six hits.
Tyler Hanover got the first lick on Bradley Hendrix, blasting a three-run home run over the left field wall, his second in two days. Gibbs smacked an RBI double before Haydel grounded out to end the inning, putting the Tigers ahead 6-4.
Mitchell kept LSU rolling in the sixth, taking two bases on a routine single after Auburn’s centerfielder slow-played the catch. DJ LeMahieu’s single to centerfield scored the junior, who had advanced to third on a wild pitch.
In the eighth, with two men on and no outs, Mainieri made the call for Jones.
The junior, who had been back with the team just over a week due to the departure for spring football, took to the hill for just his first time as a Tiger.
Though he gave up a hit to load the bases, the junior struck out the following two batters on off-speed pitches.
“My curveball and slider were working for me,” Jones said. “It was really just a great day for me.”
Mainieri made the call for Matty Ott to close the inning, seeing Jones head back to the dugout to a standing ovation from the crowd.
The high spirits did not last long, however, as Ott allowed a 2 RBI hit to right field on the first batter he faced.
The score moved the visitors within one run, seeing Wes Gilmer strike out to end the frame.
Ott put two runners on in the ninth before Austin Nola and LeMahieu turned a double play to end the game, giving the Tigers the 7-6 win.
Daniel Bradshaw got the win for the Tigers, going 2.1 innings and allowing two earned runs on three hits. Ott recorded his tenth save of the season.