HOOVER, Ala. – Second baseman Tyler Hanover knocked in the game-winning run in the top of the 11th inning with a single to left, and junior right-hander Anthony Ranaudo fired three final shutout innings to lift LSU to a 4-3 victory over Alabama in 11 innings to clinch the SEC Tournament Championship Sunday afternoon in Regions Park.
In the top of the 11th inning, designated hitter Matt Gaudet singled to left center and reached second base on an infield single by Mikie Mahtook. Freshman Matt Fury came in to pinch run for Gaudet before Hanover sliced a single through the left side, scoring Fury and giving the Tigers a 4-3 lead.
Ranaudo retired Alabama in order in the bottom of the frame, including a game-ending strikeout of rightfielder Andrew Miller.
The Tigers (40-20) captured their third consecutive SEC Tournament title with Sunday’s win. Since the inception of the current tournament format, LSU is the only team to win three straight championship crowns. The Tigers are also the first No. 8 seed to win the tournament title since the league adopted the current tournament format.
“This was a phenomenal game,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “Alabama played so hard and so well, and I give them credit for their incredible effort. We’re thrilled with our third straight championship here in Hoover. I never lost faith in our players, and they played so well and I’m so proud of every one of them.”
Mainieri now has a 13-1 career mark in the SEC Tournament with three straight championships. He has also won eight straight conference tournament titles as a head coaching, having captured five Big East tournament crowns at Notre Dame in his final five seasons in South Bend.
LSU shortstop Austin Nola was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. The sophomore from Baton Rouge batted .457 (7-for-16) with a triple, three doubles, and four RBI. This is the third straight season an LSU player has been named MVP of the tournament. Blake Dean received the honor in 2008 and Mikie Mahtook was the 2009 MVP. Nola, Hanover, Dean, Mahtook and pitcher Ben Alsup and were all named to the 2010 SEC All-Tournament team.
Ranaudo (5-2) earned the victory in Sunday’s championship game, hurling three shutout innings to close the game, allowing no hits and striking out two. Ranaudo entered the game after the game’s second rain delay and retired the Crimson Tide in order in the bottom of the ninth. LSU starter Daniel Bradshaw also had an exceptional performance, throwing 6.1 innings, allowing two runs on six hits with five strikeouts.
The Tigers’ offense was led by Hanover, who finished 3-for-5 with an RBI, and Gaudet, who collected a pair of hits and two RBI. Nola also finished the game with a pair of hits including a triple.
The Tigers got out to an early 2-0 lead in the second inning when Gaudet ripped a two-out, two-run double to left, scoring Alex Edward and Leon Landry.
LSU extended its lead to 3-0 in the third when Mahtook launched a solo homer off Alabama starter Taylor Wolfe. The homer was Mahtook’s 14th of the season. After Hanover was hit by a Wolfe pitch, right-hander Tucker Hawley entered the game and retired the Tigers without allowing a run.
The Crimson Tide got on the board in the fourth when shortstop Josh Rutledge singled to right and reached second on an error by Mahtook to lead off the inning and was followed by Ross Wilson’s RBI single up the middle to cut the deficit to 3-1.
Prior to the start of the fifth inning lightning and heavy rain in the area halted play for and hour and twenty minutes. Play resumed at 3:25 CT.
Alabama pulled within one at 3-2 in the seventh inning when right fielder Andrew Miller slapped an RBI single to right off left-hander Chris Cotton, who came in the game in relief of Bradshaw. The next batter, catcher Brock Bennett, smashed a sinking liner to left off Paul Bertuccini, but Mason Katz made an incredible sliding catch and doubled-up Brandt Hendricks at second to end the inning and the Alabama threat.
Bertuccini made his 108th career appearance, tying him Mark LaRosa (1988-91) for most career appearances in LSU history.
Alabama tied the score at 3-3 in the eighth on a two-out RBI single by third baseman Jake Smith. Bertuccini forced the next batter, Jon Kelton to fly out to left to end the Crimson Tide threat with two runners left on base. Smith came in to pitch for Alabama in the top of the ninth and got out of the inning without any damage.
After a one-hour rain delay prior to the bottom of the ninth, Ranaudo retired the Crimson Tide in order to force extra innings. After LSU came up empty in the 10th, Wilson singled for Alabama and reached third after he stole second and Gibbs’ errant throw allowed him to advance to third.
Ranaudo forced Smith to fly out to right to end Alabama’s rally in the 10th with Wilson stranded at third base.
Smith (1-2) was charged with the loss for the Crimson Tide (37-22) after allowing the final run along with four hits in three innings of relief.