With the temperature in the 90s, the Southeastern Conference’s top two teams took to the final game of a weekend series that saw Alex Box draw the largest attendance in LSU baseball history.
With hopes of a sweep in sight, the visitor’s jumped out to an early lead 3-0 that they never relinquished.
Austin Ross took to the sun-baked mound for the Tigers, where the sophomore was forced to work through a number of elements.
“The weather was hot, but some of the early suffering was our doing,” said head coach Paul Mainieri. “Austin would get the first two outs and then they would put on a run.
“Despite the temperature or any of that, we just have to find that killer instinct to finish the inning.”
After he escaped the opening frame with no runs allowed and three men left stranded, the bubble burst for Ross in the third.
Preston Tucker’s double down the left field line put runners on second and third with one out. After a Josh Adams strikeout, Ross intentionally walked Matt den Dekker to load the bases.
Unfortunately, the move did not pay off.
A pair of Gator singles scored three runs on the frame, the visitor’s first lead of the weekend.
To the credit of Florida starter Nick Maronde, LSU did not manage a hit until the bottom of the fourth.
Tough luck for Maronde, Ryan Schimpf made it count.
The junior, who homered for the Tigers’ first hit on Saturday night, launched a solo shot over the right field wall to bring LSU within two, 3-1. The homerun was his 16 on the year, which leads the team.
The teams traded runs in the fifth, moving the scoring to 4-2. den Dekker scored on a Brandon McArthur double to left center for the Gators, while Derek Helenihi crossed the plate on an Austin Nola sacrifice fly for the Tigers.
The top of the seventh saw Chad Jones relieve Paul Bertuccini, who had taken the mound for Ross with two outs in the fifth.
Unfortunately, the stay was short-lived.
The southpaw lasted a third of an inning, allowing three runs, two earned, on three hits to extend the lead to 7-2.
Leon Landry, who entered the game to pinch-hit for Derek Helenihi, singled to center to start the bottom of the frame. Nola reached on a fielder’s choice two batters later, scoring Landry from third for the Tigers’ final run.
Florida countered with two scores in the eighth off reliever Buzzy Haydel, which stopped the damage at 9-3.
Though Haydel and Jones were tagged for a combined five runs on five hits, Mainieri was not discouraged with the effort.
“I think that both of those guys can provide some help for us down the stretch,” he said. “I am not turned away from their outing at all. With the number of games that we could end up playing in Hoover and the postseason, we will need as many arms as we can get.”
Ross (5-6, 5.27 ERA) allowed four earned runs on eight hits over 4.2 innings of work in the loss, while Maronde (3-1, 3.93 ERA) allowed two runs on three hits over 5.0 innings of work for the win.
With one weekend to play, LSU (38-14, 18-9 SEC) holds a half game lead on Alabama (34-15, 16-9 SEC) for first place in the SEC.
Ole Miss (36-15, 16-10 SEC), as well as the Tide, was still in action at the completion of Sunday’s game in Baton Rouge.
“At the beginning of the season I said that I wanted to go into the last weekend of SEC play with a shot at the title,” Mainieri said. “We got ourselves to that position, so now it is on us to make it happen.”
LSU travels to Mississippi State (23-26, 8-17 SEC) on Thursday for game one of a weekend series.