There have been a handful of times during LSU’s wild 44-game ride this season when the notion of a comeback wasn’t all that realistic.
Most of the time, though, the Tigers have carved out a personality as a team that the opponent had better be ready to battle for 27 outs if they expect to prevail.
Saturday night was one of those nights when LSU never really seemed out of contention, but was struggling to conjure up the kind of magic needed to stay hot and in best position in an SEC race destined for a furious finish.
Then the eighth inning arrived, Alex Box Stadium surged to life, the magic showed up and history repeated itself against Georgia.
Mason Katz’s grand slam erased a two-run deficit, Raph Rhymes followed up with a mammoth solo home run for effect and Tyler More came around for the final dagger in a six-run Tigers’ rally as they surged back for an 8-4 triumph.
Ryan Eades, Joey Bourgeois and Nick Goody teamed up to stymie the Bulldogs over the final six innings, with Bourgeois evening his record at 2-2.
Third-ranked LSU (35-9, 14-6 SEC) wrapped up the series win by staggering Georgia (24-20, 8-12) for the second night in a row in the late innings. The Tigers go for a third SEC home sweep at 1 p.m. Sunday.
For three shaky innings Saturday, the Bulldogs were on the doorstep of squaring the series as they got to Eades for four runs – two unearned – when he struggled to finish off batters and innings.
Georgia jumped in front with a two-run first inning, sparked by Curt Powell’s leadoff home run on the second pitch of the game. The Tigers clawed back and answered in their half of the first as Katz drilled an RBU double to score JaCoby Jones and Austin Nola followed Rhymes’ single with a sacrifice fly.
The Bulldogs got to Eades for a pair of two-out runs in the third inning when he plunked Conor Welton, who stole second and scooted around on Peter Verdin’s opposite-field flair to right field on a 2-and-2 count. Verdin distracted Eades enough to cause an errant pickoff throw to first base and that stung when Brett DeLoach’s chopper up the middle resulted in an infield RBI hit and 4-2 Georgia cushion.
“He really was struggling and having trouble getting the ball down,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He fell behind on hitters when we needed to get ahead. He threw the pickoff play away. He was just kind of doing everything that he could wrong.
“But then he righted the ship and started competing even harder and reaching inside himself for something extra.”
|Joey Bourgeois: Keys the win with 3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen|
Indeed, Eades found a groove and retired six of the next seven hitters to keep the game close before giving way to Bourgeois in the sixth after allowing a leadoff double to DeLoach and walking Jonathan Hester.
Bourgeois got out of that mess to begin his scoreless stint.
“I felt like I was settling in a little bit,” Eades said. “I was glad Joey was able to come in behind me and get the job done. This was a great team win.”
It just happened to take the rest of the team a little while to jump back into the fray.
After the promising offensive start, the Tigers’ bats went stagnant for the next six innings. Georgia starter Michael Palazzone notched three scoreless frames before his night abruptly ended when he experienced some pain when he was warming up for the fifth inning.
Freshman Pete Nagel took over and flustered LSU. He walked Ty Ross on four pitches to begin his stint and then uncorked a wild pitch on the first offering to Jordy Snikeris. After that, though, Nagel blazed through three innings and retired nine consecutive Tigers.
Snikeris finally snapped that drought when he yanked a double inside the third-base bag to begin the eighth inning, bringing the Box crowd of 8.607 – the largest of the season – to life.
Jones hammered a low liner that just cleared second baseman Levi Hyams’ leaping attempt and rolled into the gap for another double, but the ball was struck so sharply that Snikeris was unable to score.
Bulldogs coach Dave Perno summoned left-hander Blake Dieterich, and on his first pitch he hit Arby Fields in the back to load the bases with no outs and Katz coming up.
The night before, Katz had come up empty-handed in a similar opportunity when he flied out the bases full in the seventh inning with the Tigers down a run.
He got ahead in the count this time, taking two balls from Dieterich and then fouling off a fastball. When Dieterich came back with a changeup, Katz pounced on it and cranked the ball into the left-field bleachers for his first career grand slam, and just like that a 4-2 struggle turned into a 6-4 lead.
Katz said his failed chance the night before was on his mind as he walked to the plate.
“Absolutely – 100%,” he said. “I walked up there and pictured it in my mind. I had to do something different.
“I was really thinking about a deep fly ball to center, keeping my hands in the zone as long as I could, and getting one (run) in. … I pulled off a 2-0 fastball and got another good pitch to hit.”
|Raph Rhymes: 2 more hits, including a solo home run, as part of a six-run inning|
With the box crackling with electricity, Rhymes poured gas on the fire when he blistered a 1-1 pitch over the bleachers to nudge the lead to 7-4.
Whatever starch the Bulldogs had left evaporated when Moore swatted a double down the right-field line with one out, broke for third base with Tyler Hanover up and dashed home when Brandon Stephens’ throw skipped into left field.
Goody took over and struck out the Georgia side in the ninth inning, securing the win for Bourgeois, who shook off two straight shaky outings by retiring nine of the 11 batters he faced.
“We were down 4-2 and all I did was go in there and live pitch-by-pitch,” Bourgeois said. “When I came in, I said ‘Ryan I got your back. I’m going to get you put of this jam,’ and I kept my word.”
As a result, the Tigers kept an incredible month of success going and stayed in an enviable spot in the SEC standings.
With Kentucky losing to Vanderbilt on Saturday, LSU is now 14-3 in April and dead even with the Wildcats for the overall SEC lead, a half-game ahead of South Carolina, which finished off a sweep of Alabama with a 9-1 win Saturday.
“We’re playing good baseball,” Mainieri said. “We’re having fun and finding ways to win.”
SERIES UPDATE: LSU 8, Georgia 4
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GAME 1: In the nick of time