A tightly contested Southeastern Conference game between No. 2 LSU and No. 15 South Carolina took a turn for the bizarre in the top of the ninth inning during a two-run game-winning Gamecocks rally.
The final frame started with an error on LSU’s usually slick-fielding shortstop Alex Bregman. After Connor Bright failed on three consecutive attempts to get a sacrifice bunt down, Tanner English came to the rescue with a triple to plate the go-ahead run.
“I got a good pitch to hit and put it where they weren’t,” English said. “I was thinking three (bases) out of the box.”
That’s when things got weird.
Cotton was called for a balk, scoring English and providing the Gamecocks (32-12, 12-8 SEC) the 4-2 lead on LSU (39-5, 16-4) that would eventually be the final score. The call prompted a furious LSU coach Paul Mainieri to sprint from the dugout and argue the call.
The normally reserved Mainieri was tossed and the regular-season record home crowd of 10,246 was none too pleased, giving the home plate umpire an earful for each call that did not go LSU’s way.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard a baseball stadium as loud as it was in the ninth inning there,” South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “It was a huge win. Now we have a chance to play again tomorrow, and who knows what will happen.”
With the crowd firmly behind it, LSU wouldn’t go down without a rally. The Tigers started the bottom of the ninth with back-to-back hits off Gamecocks closer Tyler Webb — not too surprising considering LSU’s leadoff hitter hit safely in eight of nine innings.
But Webb would settle in and retire the next three batters, securing the win and ending LSU’s 21-game home winning streak.
The Gamecocks wasted no time getting started in Saturday night’s game after being held to two runs in the series opener, scratching two runs across the plate in the first inning against LSU starter Ryan Eades.
After leadoff man Graham Saiko reached base on an error to start the game, South Carolina ripped three singles and pushed two runs across the plate. Those would be the last two runs the Gamecocks would score until the ninth inning.
South Carolina starter Jordan Montgomery flirted with disaster for most of the first half of the game, but emerged largely unscathed against an LSU team that came into the series second in the SEC in runs scored.
The sophomore southpaw was hit around the ballpark by a talented LSU lineup, and seven of LSU’s nine hitters had recorded a hit by the fourth inning.
The LSU hitters were finding the gaps, but Montgomery outperformed them in the clutch. He looked comfortable in early-game pressure situations, and no moment was more anxiety-inducing than in the bottom of the third.
LSU loaded the bases with three consecutive singles from the two-through-four spots in its lineup. That brought senior Raph Rhymes, who doubled in his first at bat, to the plate with one out.
No problem. Montgomery got Rhymes to chop the ball up the middle to shortstop Joey Pankake, who turned the inning-ending double play.
It was much of the same all night for Montgomery, who scattered 10 hits in seven innings.
“That’s a good team, I was expecting to give up hits,” Montgomery said. “It’s about what you do when you give up the hits. I was just trying to dial back and keep the runs to a minimum.”
Three South Carolina pitchers combined to allow 14 hits in the contest.
“If you do that day-in day-out against those guys, you’re not going to win,” Holbrook said. “The baseball gods were with us tonight. They hit some balls on the nose that were caught. We continually battled and bowed our neck and pitched out of trouble.”
Jack Wynkoop will get the nod on the hill for South Carolina in Sunday’s game, with first pitch coming at 3 p.m.
Note: The actual attendance figure (10,246) and the paid attendance figure (12,727) both were school records for LSU.