HOOVER, Ala. -- As the Tigers took to Regions Park Wednesday evening, the men in purple and gold were all smiles.
Why wouldn’t they be?
This time last year, LSU (41-16) sparked their run to the SEC Tournament title. One better, the Tigers were awarded their latest piece of history – the SEC regular season trophy – just prior to the game’s first pitch.
From that point forward, however, head coach Paul Mainieri’s boys looked nothing like the ball club that snatched up the previously mentioned awards.
While starting pitcher Austin Ross (5-7) looked confident through much of his outing – going six innings and allowing four runs on eight hits – the Tiger bats never showed.
The reason: Commodore southpaw starter Mike Minor (6-4).
“Minor was the story of the game,” Mainieri said. “He mixed his pitches well, and we could not get anything on him. He went out and showed why left-handers are at such a premium.”
Minor tossed a complete game for the win, allowing one run on six hits in the process.
The loss moved the Tigers to 14-13 on the year against pitchers from the left side, a mark that Mainieri is not happy with.
“None of our batters came close to getting a good swing tonight,” he said. “Our batters have to come up and do the job. We have to be better than we were tonight.”
After he retired the first two Commodores to open the game, Ross put runners on the corners after a fielding error by shortstop Austin Nola. He would do the same in the third, both times leaving runners stranded as LSU escaped without a run allowed.
“I felt like the way Austin pitched – on most days – it would have been good enough for the win,” Mainieri said. “You have to give credit to Vanderbilt, because they came out and played an amazing game.”
Ross held back the bats until Vanderbilt broke the seal in the fourth by way of an Andrew Giobbi solo home run over the left field fence – his fifth of the season.
In the following frame, it became apparent that the Commodores were picking up on the LSU right-hander.
Brian Harris walked on a full count before Jonathon White doubled to left, which advanced Harris to third. Vanderbilt scored the runner on a sacrifice fly by Curt Casali – giving them the 2-0 advantage in the process.
Runners reached second and third with one out again in the sixth, but this time the LSU sophomore starter was even more poised under pressure - striking out both batters on six straight pitches.
After Ross gave up a pair of hits to start the seventh, Mainieri called Daniel Bradshaw out of the pen.
Unfortunately, he offered little support.
The right-hander allowed a double to the first batter he faced, which scored White and advanced Steven Liddle to third. Aaron Westlake flied out to center to score the runner, extending the lead to four runs as the game hit the seventh inning stretch.
Bradshaw left the game after 0.2 innings of work where he recorded a walk, a strikeout and a hit during his brief stay on the hill.
Paul Bertuccinni lasted from the final out in the seventh to the final out in the eighth, where he allowed no hits in the process.
In between the pitching shuffle, the Tigers scored their lone run.
In the seventh, Tyler Hanover doubled down the right field line before Sean Ochinko singled to left, which advanced Hanover to third. He scored on a ground out to first base by Austin Nola, his 12th RBI during his 20 games in the starting lineup.
Southpaw Chad Jones recorded the final out in the eighth, striking out the only batter he faced. The left-hander then retired the side in order in the ninth.
Yet, unlike last year in Hoover, there would be no late game heroics for the Bayou Bengals.
Headed back to the hotel to collect his thoughts, the Tiger skipper said that the evening’s outcome was a testament to the competition level of the conference.
“Vanderbilt might be the eight seed, but they are a very good team,” Mainieri said. “As for Minor, he was as good as anyone we have faced. We did not overlook Vanderbilt at all, and I don’t want anyone to think that.
“This tournament is more challenging than any NCAA Tournament,” he added. “The rankings here mean nothing, because two of the teams not in the top five seeds were once ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation at one point this year.”
LSU will be back in action on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. against Alabama and Mainieri is set to start sophomore Anthony Ranaudo (7-3, 3.26 ERA).