BATON ROUGE, La. - Just beyond the fence in right field, LSU has what it calls The Intimidator, a real-life billboard the size of one you'd see on a roadside. On it are listed the years the Tigers won each of their five national titles.
With one out and two on in the bottom of the seventh inning Friday night and leading 10-7, Ole Miss brought out its Intimidator and put him right out there in the middle of the ballpark for all to see as well. His name is Stephen Head.
Ole Miss beat LSU 14-8 to open the three-game Southeastern Conference series. When Head came in to pitch, the outcome was in doubt with Ole Miss up three runs and LSU threatening. Shortly therafter, it was lights out for the homestanding Tigers.
Head, coming in to pitch from his first base position, struck out the first two batters he faced to close out the seventh.
There was a quiet confidence surrounding the Ole Miss dugout at that point. No high-fives. Few pats on the back.
Head was on the mound. This one was over.
"I felt great out there," Head said. "And then our bats were so tremendous tonight. I think when I get those two strikeouts (to end the seventh), that was the turning point of the game. They don't score there, and we come out in the next inning and score more runs to put the game away."
As Head pointed out, the Rebels came out in the top of the eighth and got back to back first-pitch singles from Chris Coghlan and, of course, Head himself.
LSU brought in its fourth pitcher of the game at that point, Jordan Faircloth, who had not given up an earned run all season. Brian Pettway singled to score Coghlan, and Mark Wright sent a three-run shot over the Intimidator-less left field wall. So much for his 0.00 ERA.
With Head on the mound and the Rebs now up 14-7, this one was indeed over. Aftter the junior left-hander got two more Tigers to strike out in the bottom of the eighth, LSU did put together back to back hits, including a triple to the center field wall by Ryan Patterson to score Blake Gill, who had singled, to trim the Rebel lead to 14-8.
But that was it as LSU failed to mount a comeback of any sort in the bottom of the ninth, and game one went to Ole Miss, which improved to 24-10 overall and 7-6 in SEC play. LSU, which lost a fifth straight conference game for the first time since 1983, fell to 24-12 and 5-8, last place currently in the SEC West.
"It was a great offensive night for our team, certainly one of the best of the year for us," said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, whose Rebels had 18 hits in the contest after having 14 hits in Wednesday's 10-8 win at Southeastern Louisiana and 19 hits in a 12-10 win over Alabama last Saturday. "We really swung the bats well and extended the lead a lot. When they came back, we answered."
Rebel catcher Barry Gunther, himself 3-for-4 on the night with an RBI, said things were obviously in the Rebels' favor when Head was called in from first base in the seventh.
"LSU can hit the ball. They've always been able to do that," Gunther said. "But when Stephen came in, he just shut them down. After he struck those two guys out, it just deflated them. Then we immediately scored a few more runs."
Ole Miss had loaded the bases in the top of the first inning but got no runs. The Tigers scored two runs in the bottom of the first to lead 2-0.
But Ole Miss put up a "6" spot in the second to chase starter and eventual loser Lane Mestepey.
After LSU got nothing off Rebel starter Mark Holliman in the bottom of the second, the Rebels then put up three more runs in the top of the third to lead 9-2 and take control.
"I thought we were really zoned in early in this one offensively," Bianco said.
But the Tigers were far from finished. A grand slam by Clay Harris in the bottom of the third pulled the Tigers to within three runs at 9-6. Ole Miss answered with a run in the top of the fourth on a Gunther RBI single.
After Nick Stavinoha led off the bottom of the fifth with a controversial solo home run just over the left field foul pole, the Tigers had it to within three again at 10-7.
Bianco brought in Tommy Baumgardner to relieve Holliman with two on and two out in the fifth, and the junior left-hander got pinch hitter Michael Hollander to ground out to end the threat.
Baumgardner, who got the win, remained on the hill until the seventh when the Tigers got an out but followed that with back to back singles. Enter Head. Victory was not too far away for Ole Miss.
Head ended the contest 3-for-6 at the plate with 3 RBI, while Brian Pettway was 4-for-6 with 3 RBI. Coghlan went 3-for-5 with 2 RBI. Zack Cozart was 2-for-5.
LSU had 12 hits in the game led by Harris' 3-for-5 performance with 5 RBI.
Game two of this series is set for Saturday at 2 p.m. Matt Maloney (Jr., LHP, 4-1, 0.99 ERA) will be on the mound for the Rebels, while Clay Dirks (Jr., RHP, 7-1, 3.16 ERA) will counter for LSU.
Gunther said Friday night was only step one in the Rebels' quest to take the series.
"We didn't come here to win one game," he said. "That's for sure."
UM offense on fire as Head shuts down LSU
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