OXFORD, Miss. – After heavy rain and thunderstorms pounded the Magnolia State on Friday night, the series between No. 5 LSU and No. 19 Ole Miss was pushed back and turned into a Saturday double-header.
While rain continued to fall for most of the morning, the early afternoon brought the first sunny skies that north Mississippi had seen in over 24 hours.
Regardless, Mother Nature would be felt.
For the baseball hungry fan, there was no wait before the tone for the day was set, a blessing for those who braved Friday’s conditions.
With winds blowing straight to centerfield, Blake Dean powered a ball over the wall in right field to give LSU the early 2-0 lead. While the Tigers run total might not have piled up, the wind continued on, helping stockpile the early scores on a day that was supposed to feature the conference’s marquee pitching matchup.
It was scripted to be Anthony Ranaudo for LSU, a 6-foot-7 right-hander who is heralded by most as one of the nation’s premier arms. Then the fun would come in watching Ole Miss southpaw Drew Pomeranz (6-0) - the nation’s leader in strikeouts - counter in the bottom half of each inning.
Neither pitcher lasted more than three innings.
Instead, the Rebels pounded Ranaudo (2-1) out for nine runs, all earned, on nine hits. A rarity in the Ranaudo world, head coach Paul Mainieri had seen enough before the end of the second, pulling his ace after just 1.2 innings of work.
“Anthony had the worst game he has ever had at LSU,” Mainieri said. “It was one of those days where nothing worked for him. He didn’t do anything well. He didn’t have command and couldn’t get his breaking ball over for strikes. They teed off on him.”
The home runs, with the aid of the afternoon’s winds, came one after the next.
In the bottom of the first, Miles Hamblin hit a two-run shot over Leon Landry’s head in the deepest part of left centerfield. Two batters later, Matt Snyder followed with a solo shot of his own.
Heavy winds, which lasted throughout most of the day’s first game, were already proving their value to the home team.
“I think the wind played a big part in the game, because a couple of those home runs would have been routine outs on most days,” Mainieri said. “The wind just blew them out.”
Following a three-run first that gave Ole Miss the lead, the Rebels appeared poised to put Ranaudo out before he could regain his footing.
Once again, the dagger came off the bat of Snyder.
With the bases loaded, the Rebels designated hitter, who went 4-for-5 with six RBI, recorded his second home run in as many innings, a grand slam that slipped past a reaching Landry and over the centerfield fence to give Ole Miss the 9-2 advantage.
While nine runs through two frames meant the Ole Miss bats were healthy, the performance from Pomeranz left something to be desired.
After he struggled with his control through the first two frames, the Rebels southpaw, who entered the game with a 6-0 record and 1.38 ERA, found himself in an early jam in the third. Nearing 100 pitches, he walked the bases loaded, bringing his count for the game to nine. Pomeranz had given up 24 walks on the year prior to Saturday. By the start of the fourth, after walking back-to-back runners, Pomeranz called it a day.
Outside of a sacrifice fly by Micah Gibbs in the top of the fourth the two sides remained calm until the sixth, when the Tigers used a three-run home run by Matt Gaudet to pull within one.
The Rebels, as they had all day, countered immediately.
On the first pitch in the bottom of the frame, Tim Ferguson homered into the bullpen over the left field fence to push the lead to 10-8. Ferguson, who was perfect at the plate up to that point, finished the day 4-of-5 with a pair of RBI.
Bad news for LSU, some of his best work was still in front him.
Ben Alsup, who stepped in for Ranaudo, saw his day end in the seventh. Alsup’s outing was a strong one, allowing just one earned run and one walk across five innings of relief work.
Despite all the down moments, Gaudet launched his second opposite-field home run of the game over the right field fence with two outs in the eighth to give LSU life - at least for the moment.
With freshman Chris Cotton on the mound, the Rebels, behind the hot bat of Snyder, dropped an RBI single into centerfield to push the lead back to two runs.
It was another quick answer by the Ole Miss bats, and after LSU went three-up, three-down in the top of the ninth, game one of the series, an 11-9 decision, belonged to the Rebels.
“Who would have thought that we get Pomeranz out of the game in the fourth inning, but yet not win,” Mainieri said. “We fought almost all the way back, and they tacked one on.”
The second game brought the level of drama up another notch, seeing the teams work into extra innings on a day where 20 frames of baseball were played.
Though things didn’t end in the same light, the game began positive for LSU.
Mikie Mahtook led off with a home run down the left field line. Gaudet followed with his third home run of the day, a two-run blast to left-center field that doubled the LSU lead to 4-0. Austin Nola then drove in Johnny Dishon in the second to add a fifth run.
Through a pair of innings LSU was in the driver’s seat, allowing no runs and forcing Rebel starter Aaron Barrett to nearly 60 pitches.
After the Rebels added a run in the third, the good fortune began to fade.
When LSU starter Joey Bourgeois hit the leadoff man and surrendered a double to put runners on second and third with no outs, Mainieri called for Jordan Rittiner.
When the first Rebel batter put a ball at third baseman Grant Dozar, the throw to first was off line and out of Blake Dean’s reach. Two runs scored, and Rittiner was forced to continue to work past the error - with no outs. Pinch hitting for Phillips, Taylor Hashman knocked a two-run homerun to tie the game at 5-5.
The next inning brought more of the same.
After Miller drew a one-out walk, Mort doubled him to third with a drive down the left-field line. With the infield in, Yarbrough loaded the bases after being hit by a pitch.
Hashman then came through once more, clearing the bases on a double to right-center field, giving Ole Miss their first lead of the game at 8-5.
Two frames later LSU tied the game back up, scoring three runs behind timely RBIs from Dean, Gibbs and Gaudet.
Even at eight, the push for the win came multiple times from the visitors.
In the seventh Gibbs was thrown out on a play at the plate that would have scored the go-ahead run. With Dishon at second base in the eighth inning, Mahtook drove a hard line drive directly at Yarbrough, the Rebels second baseman, for the final out. In the ninth, Nola was robbed of a home run by Ferguson, who leaped over the wall in the deepest part of centerfield to bring the ball back into play.
When extra innings rolled in the close calls continued.
In the 11th, Dean flied out to the warning track on a ball that seemed destined for the hill beyond the outfield fence.
By the bottom of the frame, LSU and closer Matty Ott, who had been on the hill since the eighth inning, couldn’t hold back the bats any longer.
Smith led off with a double on the first pitch, his first hit of the day. Snyder followed by drawing a walk before a failed bunt attempt. With one out, Mort popped out to right field to move Smith to third. Yarbrough, up with two outs and runners on the corners, singled a full-count pitch back up the middle for the win, ending a day of baseball that began at 3 p.m. and didn’t finish until close to midnight.
“It was a tough day for us with two tough ball games,” Mainieri said. “We get a five-run lead and we start walking and hitting batters. Then they got onto Jordan a little bit. We fought back and tied it up. Eventually Matty [Ott] ran out of gas and they beat us.”
Mainieri said that southpaw Chris Matulis will get the Sunday start for LSU.