Baton Rouge, LA--(UT Sports) LSU's Mark Laird delivered a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to walk the No. 6 Tigers off with an 8-7 win in a wild series opener in front of 8,060 at Alex Box Stadium on Friday night in Baton Rouge.
Tennessee (25-15, 7-12) held leads of 2-0, 6-5 and 7-5 through six and a half frames, but LSU was able to plate one run in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings to improve to 32-10-1 overall and 11-7-1 in SEC play. Meeting for the first time since 2011, the clubs combined for 30 hits, including 10 doubles - seven from the Tigers. LSU left 13 runners on base, while the Vols left nine, including eight in scoring position.
Going up against arguably the best pitcher in the nation, the Vols chased LSU right-hander Aaron Nola in a season-low 5 2/3 innings. Having allowed just seven runs over 71.2 innings this season, the Vols put a five-spot (all earned) on the board against the Tigers' ace. UT also registered eight hits against the Baton Rouge native, tying the most he's allowed all season, and struck out just four times, the fewest of the season for Nola.
"Obviously, we're disappointed; this was a tough, tough loss for this team," said head coach Dave Serrano. "I thought we did an outstanding job offensively off what I believe to be one of the best pitchers in the country. He's shut a lot of people down and made it very tough on a lot of teams, but our offense did a very good job. We looked him right in the eye and took some great at-bats.
"Like I said to the team, it wasn't so much the team effort that disappointed me, but there were some individual efforts within the game that came back to haunt us. Some of it comes down to toughness - toughness plays we don't make. In this atmosphere, if you allow a team to get back in a game, they're going to take advantage of it. We just couldn't hold the lead."
The Vols had three players register multi-hit games, with leadoff man Will Maddox going 3-for-5 with a RBI and two runs scored. Maddox extended his hit streak to a team-best 10 games. Christin Stewart was 2-for-5 with a RBI and a pair of runs scored and freshman Nathaniel Maggio was 2-for-4 with a RBI double. Knoxville native Derek Lance had the big hit in the game for the Orange and White, clearing the bases with a three-RBI double to retake the lead with a four-run sixth inning.
Maddox wasted no time jumping on Nola, lacing his first pitch of the game through the four-hole for a leadoff single to extend his hit streak. The Vols perfected the inside game in the opening frame as A.J. Simcox laid down his SEC-leading 13th sac bunt of the season to move Maddox into scoring position. Stewart then singled into center, bringing home Maddox for the game's first run. Freshman Nick Senzel followed by sending a double off the right field wall, plating Stewart to give the Vols a 2-0 lead.
Tennessee added two more hits in the second on back-to-back loop singles to center by Vincent Jackson and Maddox, who improved to 2-for-2 on the night, but could not plate another run.
Scott Price picked up a two-out single in the third and Nola walked the next two Vols to load the bags, but a strikeout would leave three on base in the third.
After two-out doubles in both the first and second innings, LSU strung together one-out singles in the third frame, but Vols' starter Peter Lenstrohm worked to get consecutive flyouts from LSU's Alex Bregman and Sean McMullen to end the threat.
The Tigers got to Lenstrohm in a big way in the fourth inning, roping six hits - four of them doubles - to score five runs and take a 5-2 lead on Tennessee. LSU brought 10 men to the plate in the fourth and got doubles from Jake Fraley, Tyler Moore, Kramer Robertson and Andrew Stevenson. LSU had six doubles through four innings.
Maggio led off the sixth inning with a slow-rolling infield single to third base and was moved into scoring position on a sac bunt by Tyler Schultz. Following a Jackson flyout, Maddox picked up his third hit of the day off Nola, whistling a single right back at him to bring home Maggio and cut the lead to 5-3.
Maddox stole second - his team-leading 16th stolen base - and Simcox walked to put two on with two outs, ending Nola's night. Stewart jumped on the first pitch from southpaw Zac Person to load the bases with two outs and Lance followed with one of the biggest hits of his career, clearing the bases with a double to left center to score all three runs and five UT a 6-5 advantage.
Tennessee increased its lead in the top of the seventh as Maggio doubled in Taylor Smart to make it 7-5. However, LSU quickly got that run back in the bottom half. The Tigers loaded the bases in the seventh, but could only manage one run to bring the margin to 7-6.
The Tigers rallied to tie the game at 7-7 with a pair of two-out hits in the bottom of the eighth inning. Vols' reliever Josh Peterson got the first two outs of the frame quickly, but a single by McMullen and another RBI double by Fraley brought home the tying run.
LSU closer Joe Broussard was dominant in the top half of the ninth, striking out the side in order to keep the game level and setting the stage for the Tigers' walk-off win.
A leadoff walk by Andrew Lee and sac bunt by Christian Ibarra moved pinch runner Jared Foster into scoring position. Lee got Robertson to strike out swinging for the second out of the ninth and intentionally walked Stevenson to put a force out at any bag, setting up the matchup with Laird. The sophomore delivered his second walk off in three weeks.
Lee (4-2) took the loss and Broussard (2-0) earned the win.
Game two of the series is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on Cox Sports Television and ESPN3. The Vols will send out sophomore southpaw Andy Cox, while LSU will hand the ball to freshman Jared Poche'.
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