BATON ROUGE – In a series defined by missed opportunities, LSU finally came through in the clutch, winning 7-6 in the deciding game against South Carolina.
Left fielder Antoine Duplantis fired a single into left field in the bottom of the tenth inning to score center fielder Zach Watson from third base and improve the Tigers record in the Southeastern Conference to 15-9.
“I said before it started that this series would have a Super Regional feel to it,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “It was a roller-coaster of emotions today…that’s how baseball is sometimes.”
The win ties LSU with Kentucky and puts them a game back from both Mississippi State (32-17 ,16-8) and Florida (35-13, 16-8) in the regular season standings.
The single was Duplantis’ fifth and biggest of the day and his teammates let him know it after the game. Duplantis received an ice water bath and not one, but two shaving cream-filled towels to the face in celebration. And some talcum powder for good measure.
The late-game rally was started against South Carolina’s closer Tyler Johnson, one of the top relief arms in the country and a pitcher capable of touching triple digits on the radar gun.
“I was hoping to not have to face the big guy out of the pen...it’s like facing a major-league pitcher when he’s on the mound because it won’t be long before he’s pitching professionally,” Mainieri said.
Duplantis wasn’t fazed.
The former Lafayette High star went to the plate originally looking for a slider, but after working a 2-0 count he was sitting dead-red on a fastball.
He got one on the outer third of the plate and sent it over the third baseman’s head for the game winner.
“He threw me a slider first pitch up, but once it got to 2-0, I was looking for the fastball,” Duplantis said. “If he threw me a 2-0 slider, I was going to tip my cap to him, but I wasn’t going to miss the fastball.
“That’s SEC baseball. You’re going to see some really high caliber players. It was a good hard-fought battle, but it shows a lot about our team coming back today.”
The walk-off single wasn’t the only major play Duplantis was involved in during the tenth inning.
After South Carolina first baseman Matt Williams drew a walk to open the tenth inning, right fielder Jacob Olson cranked a double into the left field corner.
The ball got lodged under the fence and Williams rounded third to go home.
Then Duplantis and LSU shortstop Kramer Robertson stepped in. Duplantis freed the ball, fired a perfect relay throw to Robertson who in one smooth motion caught the ball, turned and fired a frozen rope to catcher Michael Papierski at home.
Papierski picked the ball, transferred it to his free hand and tagged Williams out a millisecond before the first baseman touched home.
“A couple inches one way or another it could be a different outcome,” Robertson said. “It was a total team effort. Everybody played a role and did something.
“Once it got stuck in the fence, I wasn’t thinking we could get him. But I thought Antoine made the perfect throw and if I could get it in quickly, we maybe had a chance. Mike made an unbelievable pick and tag and I was pretty fired up right there.”
LSU still has Auburn and Mississippi State left on the SEC schedule and Robertson said the Tigers are right where they want to be after the dramatic win.
“It’s such a good feeling going in 15-9 rather than 14-10,” Robertson said. “We had such a good opportunity with some of the things that were going on around the (SEC) and we didn’t want to waste that.
“We took advantage of it today and we’re right where we want to be. All of our goals are still ahead of us with two SEC series to go.”