NEW ORLEANS — For the second time in two games, the LSU baseball team staged a massive ninth-inning comeback to take a lead. But this time so did its opponent.
“You’ve got to be better than the other team on the road because they bat last,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. “As we witnessed Sunday and [Wednesday]. The other team gets to bat in the ninth inning. You’ve got to get the 27 outs to win if you’ve got the lead.”
Just as was the case on in the Tigers’ 6-run comeback Sunday against Tennessee, freshman left fielder Daniel Cabrera completed a ninth-inning rally, singling home center fielder Zach Watson to give the Tigers their first lead since the third inning. But LSU’s bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, giving up 3 runs in the bottom of the ninth en route to a 10-9 loss.
Freshman Devin Fontenot threw the bottom of the ninth inning, and promptly allowed a solo home run to outfielder Grant Witherspoon, who is 12 for 24 with 7 RBI and 12 runs scored against LSU in his career. Fontenot followed the home run with a walk to second baseman Jonathon Artigues and a wild pitch to put the tying run on second, causing Mainieri to yank him in favor of sophomore right-hander Matthew Beck.
Beck allowed an RBI double to third baseman Kody Hoese, tying the game 9-9. The next batter bunted Hoese to third base, giving the Green Wave a runner on third base with one out. Beck then intentionally walked designated hitter David Bedgood and shortstop Sal Gozzo to load the bases.
“I was afraid they were going to squeeze bunt to try to win the game and I wanted to have a force out there,” Mainieri said of his decision to intentionally walk two batters. “We were getting to the bottom of the order. Their last two hitters are batting .211 and .188. I figured if we’re going to lose, we’ll lose to those guys. They put in a pinch hitter who was hitting under .200. But there’s no defense if you can’t put the ball over the plate.”
With the bases loaded, LSU brought Watson in from center field as a fifth infielder as Tulane’s Luke Glancy came to the plate. The choice didn’t matter, as Beck walked home the winning run on four pitches. After the game, Mainieri admitted fault for the choice to intentionally walk the two batters, saying it put unnecessary stress on Beck.
“Obviously, I did the wrong thing walking those batters,” Mainieri said. “It put too much pressure on our pitcher who just wasn’t capable of throwing strikes under those conditions.”
Still, Mainieri pointed to Fontenot’s walk to Artigues as the team’s “undoing,” saying LSU should’ve chosen to attack the hitter instead of pitch around him. Once Artigues walked, Mainieri said, Fontenot was in a “difficult situation” and wasn’t able to recover.
As for the comeback …
Watson tied the game in the ninth inning with a two-out double down the left-field line to score second baseman Brandt Broussard from third base, but Broussard deserves credit for single-handedly catalyzing the rally. Playing in his first game in nearly a month, Broussard led off the ninth with a hit by pitch, then stole second base with two outs. Tulane catcher Owen Acy’s throw sailed into center field, advancing Broussard to third base for Watson.
Senior catcher Nick Coomes added an insurance run, singling home Cabrera to give the Tigers their 9-7 lead. Coomes notched a career-high 4 hits on Wednesday, including 2 doubles, driving in 2 runs and scoring once.
“I thought we hit the ball hard all game,” Watson said. “We had a lot of hard outs. That’s baseball. It happened. They’re going to fight just like we are and they’re not going to give up until the end. And they came out with the win.”
LSU’s offense woke up in the late innings, plating 3 combined runs in the seventh and eighth innings behind an RBI single from right fielder Antoine Duplantis and an RBI triple from third baseman Jake Slaughter, who later scored on a wild pitch. The Tigers’ bullpen kept the possibility for a rally alive, holding Tulane hitless from the fifth through the eighth inning and retiring 11 batters in a row to end the stretch.
And the starting pitcher?
Freshman right-handed starting pitcher AJ Labas struggled to what ended up being the worst start of his career, allowing 5 earned runs in on 7 hits with 1 walk and no strikeouts in 3 innings. The freshman opened the game hot, retiring the first five Tulane batters he faced but began to slow down after allowing back-to-back two-out base runners in the second inning.
Tulane started to pile on in the third inning, opening the frame with four straight hits. Three of those four hits went to right field, with catcher Acy Owen’s double and second baseman Artigues’ 3-run home run going over Duplantis’ head into the wind. Labas finished the inning, but not before allowing 6 hits, 3 for extra bases.
“He just couldn’t put anybody away,” Mainieri said of Labas. “He got two strikes on a bunch of batters; he just didn’t have the stuff to strike them out. When they put the bat on the ball, something good can happen for them. You credit them. We just couldn’t put them away when we had a chance.”
Perhaps the most unfortunate part of Labas’ third-inning meltdown was he was looking for a shutdown inning. The Tigers tacked on 3 runs in the top of the third behind a walk, 2 errors, an RBI double from Duplantis and an RBI single from first baseman Austin Bain.
What’s next for LSU baseball?
It’ll be a quick turnaround for the LSU baseball team, as the Tigers head to Columbia, S.C. to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks on Friday for the first game of a three-game SEC series. Action is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. CT and will be available to stream online through the SEC Network+ and WatchESPN.