With Sunday’s loss to No. 18 Vanderbilt, the LSU baseball team fell to 1-8 over their last nine Southeastern Conference outings.
On a weekend that was supposed to serve as the turnaround marker on a title-defense run gone off course, the Tigers walked away with their third-straight conference series defeat.
Tied at 2-2 in the eighth, the Commodores struck the winning blow off LSU closer Matty Ott, who threw the final two and one-third innings and allowed the two-out, two-run single to Vanderbilt’s Joe Loftus.
After starter Austin Ross went five and one-third innings of five-hit, two-run ball, the Tigers go-to man couldn’t close the deal.
Following three straight balls, Ott pulled the count full before giving up the leadoff walk in the top of the eighth. A sacrifice bunt moved the runner to second, and an intentional walk put men on first and second with one out.
Then the drama began to play out.
After a strikeout put the Tigers an out away from escaping the inning unscathed, the bad breaks began.
Blake Dean chased the would-be final out down the first base line on a foul ball, but a souvenir-hungry fan elected to make a play on the ball as well, keeping the Commodores alive in the process.
The sure-handed Austin Nola then delivered on a rare mental lapse, going for the out at second base on a hit-and-run.
With Ott facing the bases loaded and two outs, Loftus delivered the game-winner.
“[Ott] was trying to be too cute instead of going after him and challenging him,” said Mainieri of the first batter that his closer faced. “Instead we walked him and all heck breaks loose.
“Austin made a great stop on a hard hit ball, but for some reason he throws the ball to second base despite the fact that the runners were going,” he continued. “If he just throws it over to first base we are out of the inning. In a game like this where it is close and low scoring, a couple of little mistakes like that can cost you.”
Vanderbilt jumped out to the early 1-0 lead on the first at bat of the game, seeing leadoff man Brian Harris take Ross over the fence on his fourth long ball of the season.
LSU answered with a tying run in the bottom of the frame when Alex Edward knocked a two-out RBI single to leftfield, scoring Blake Dean from second. Edward finished the day 2-of-4 with a pair of RBI.
Harris then pulled the Commodores back into the lead in the third, driving a run across with a single to center.
After Edward answered back with his second RBI, Mainieri turned to Ross and his bullpen, which answered with four straight innings of no-run ball. After Ross left the game in the sixth, Zach LaSuzzo and Paul Bertuccini brought the Tigers out of the frame and through the seventh.
Vanderbilt’s two-run eighth proved to be the difference, seeing LSU manage one run in the bottom of the ninth before the Commodores pulled the plug.
“Even though we pitched well for most of the weekend, the little mistakes can come back to haunt you,” Mainieri said.
Jack Armstrong earned the victory for Vanderbilt, going seven and two-third innings of six-hit, two-run ball. Sonny Gray, the staff’s Friday night ace, earned his first save on the season by pitching the final one and one-third innings.
“Armstrong was very tough, and you bring a kid like Gray in out of the bullpen, that’s going to be challenging,” Mainieri said. “We couldn’t come up with that last hit we needed. It was a very difficult loss.”