BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU took advantage of a pair of errors and broke out for seven seventh-inning runs to erase a 2-1 deficit, and the Tigers held on to beat Southern 10-2 in the opening game of the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional Friday afternoon at Alex Box Stadium.
Sean Ochinko led off the bottom of the seventh with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Austin Nola stepped up and delivered the first of three consecutive RBI singles that went up the middle to give LSU a 4-2 lead.
“That’s why we play nine inning games.” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “We were getting into the later innings, so I felt that we needed to have a little sense of urgency, but I felt that if we continued to have a good approach at the plate, sooner or later we’d get some breaks.”
Nola’s single tied the game at 2-2 and chased Southern starter Chase Richard after 6.2 innings of work. Richard took a tough-luck loss after he allowed three runs – two of which were earned – on seven hits with one walk and no strikeouts.
“The kid pitched the game of his life,” Mainieri said. “He did not make a bad pitch in the first four innings of the game. He was hitting every spot, when he threw a breaking ball for his first pitch, he was getting it over for a strike, and he was doing everything that he wanted to do.”
Despite leading for most of the game, the wheels started to fall off for Southern as a pair of two-out errors led to four unearned runs against reliever Kyle Wahl before the seventh inning finally came to a close.
“We fell apart in the seventh inning, and that’s what a good team does to you,” Southern head coach Roger Cador said. “If you aren’t ready and mentally sharp through every pitch, then those are the types of things that happen.”
The Jaguars jumped out to a 2-0 lead after only three pitches from LSU starter Austin Ross. Ozzie Lamis hit the first pitch of the game up the middle for a single, and Victor Franklin followed with a towering two-run shot down the right field line.
“It was a great momentum starter and a great feeling,” Franklin said. “But it didn’t mean much after we didn’t win the game.”
Ross struck out the next batter, then gave up a triple to Brad McDavid, but he rebounded to strike out the next two batters to escape the inning trailing by just two.
Richard worked around a leadoff single from DJ LeMahieu to hold the Tigers scoreless in the bottom of the first.
Ross again struck out the side in the third, giving him seven strikeouts through the first three frames, but Richard scattered three singles to hold the Tigers scoreless through three.
“I just knew that if I kept us there all night we’d eventually score some runs,” Ross said. “I just focused on not giving up any more and I knew we’d be alright.”
Neither team could get anything going offensively through the first five innings. Southern was retired on three pitches in the top of the sixth, and LSU didn’t put a runner into scoring position until Ryan Schimpf led off the bottom of the sixth with a double.
LSU cut the deficit in half when Schimpf stole third and came home to score after Jaguar catcher Michael Thomas threw the ball into left field trying to catch him going to third.
Ross ran into trouble in the sixth when Thomas led off with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Toddrick Stevenson followed with a single to put runners on the corners with one out, but Lamis’ attempted safety squeeze was unsuccessful as he was called out on batter’s interference when he bunted from outside the batter’s box.
Ross then handed the ball to Paul Bertuccini out of the bullpen, who struck out Franklin to escape the jam with the Tigers still trailing 2-1. The momentum carried over to the bottom half of the inning, as LSU rallied to put the game out of reach.
Bertuccini earned the win with 1.1 perfect innings of relief. He worked a scoreless eighth before handing the ball to Buzzy Haydel, who walked one in a scoreless ninth frame. Ross didn’t factor in the decision, but he tied a career high with 10 strikeouts in 6.2 innings.
LSU takes on the winner of Friday night’s Baylor vs. Minnesota game at 6 p.m. Saturday. Southern faces the loser of that game in an elimination game Saturday at 1 p.m.