Glenn Guilbeau / Gannett Louisiana
BATON ROUGE – Mark Laird drilled a single up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to score pinch-runner Jared Foster from second base and give No. 6 LSU an 8-7 victory over Tennessee in front of 8,060 at Alex Box Stadium on a wild Friday night.
It was Laird’s second walk-off, game-winning single in less than two weeks as his RBI base hit in the bottom of the ninth on April 12 beat Arkansas 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth. The sophomore right fielder from Monroe was mobbed by his teammates after crossing home plate.
Tyler Moore started the 11th hour rally with a walk to lead off the inning. Pinch-runner Jared Foster was then moved to second by Christian Ibarra with LSU’s school record fourth sacrifice bunt of the game. Kramer Robertson struck out for the second out before Andrew Stevenson – 3-for-5 on the night with two RBIs - was intentionally walked. That brought up Mark Laird.
Tennessee reliever Andrew Lee went to three balls and no strikes on Laird before getting a strike. With the green light, the left-handed hitting Laird lined one to left field that was foul by only a few feet. He fouled off another one to foul territory on the third base side before delivering up the middle.
Lee (4-2) took the loss with 2/3s innings of work. Joe Broussard (2-0) picked up the win for the Tigers after striking out all three batters in the top of the ninth.
The two teams meet at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on Cox Sports Television.
LSU (32-10-1, 11-7-1 Southeastern Conference) tied Alabama for first place in the SEC West in the loss column as the Crimson Tide (28-14, 12-7) lost 9-3 at South Carolina. Tennessee fell to 25-15 and 7-12 in the SEC East.
The Tigers pounded out 17 hits with a season-high seven doubles while their pitching allowed 13 hits. Ace right-hander Aaron Nola was not himself as he allowed two runs on three hits in the first inning. Nola settled down but still had his worst outing since his freshman year. He gave up eight hits and five earned runs in 5 and 2/3s innings with four walks and four strikeouts.
LSU trailed 2-0 until the fourth when it came back with a doubles vengeance to score five runs on six hits, including four doubles, to take a 5-2 lead.
Jake Fraley led off the LSU fourth with a double, reached third on a sacrifice bunt by Conner Hale and scored on Moore’s RBI double to get the Tigers within 2-1. Ibarra singled to put runners on the corners. Then Robertson, who entered the game hitting .190, doubled to left field to tie the game. Stevenson followed with a two-run double for a 4-2 LSU lead. Alex Bregman put the Tigers up 5-2 with a two-out RBI single.
Fraley struck again in the eighth inning with a two-out, full-count double to tie the score 7-7. After two outs, Sean McMullen singled and stole second. Hale had a chance to put LSU ahead, but he popped out to first base.
Nola was not himself from the start as he allowed a lead-off single in the first inning to Will Maddox and a RBI single to Christin Stewart after a sacrifice bunt. Nick Senzel followed with a RBI double for a 2-0 lead.
After an error by Bregman at shortstop, Nola struck out Taylor Smart and got Nathaniel Maggio on a grounder to end the inning.
Nola battled control throughout the game, but he did not allow another run until the sixth inning. Maggio led off with a single and was bunted to second. After Vincent Jackson flew out to left field, Maddox singled in Maggio to cut LSU’s lead to 5-3. After Nola walked A.J. Simcox, he was replaced by left-hander Zac Person. Stewart greeted Person with a single to load the bases.
Person was close to striking out pinch-hitter Derek Lance to end the inning, but he did not get the third strike call on a low and outside pitch. Then Lance doubled to left field, clearing the bases for a 6-5 lead.
Tennessee went up 7-5 in the top of the seventh when Taylor Smart singled off Person and scored on Maggio’s double to left field that chased Person. Brady Domangue relieved and retired the side.
LSU drew within 7-6 in the seventh on a fielder’s choice RBI grounder with the bases loaded by Robertson but blew a chance to get more. Fraley and Hale led off with singles, and Moore bunted them to second and third. Ibarra walked to load the bases.
After Robertson’s grounder, Stevenson appeared to tie the score by lacing one into the gap between center and right, but right fielder Scott Price made the catch despite a nasty collision with center fielder Johnny Youngblood. Price did not get up for a few minutes, but held the ball defiantly. He eventually walked off and stayed in the game.