By Randy Rosetta/Special to the Journal
BATON ROUGE, La. – Matt Crouse was as good a pitcher as there was in the SEC going into Friday’s tussle with 16th-ranked LSU.
And the Tigers countered with one of the league’s top hitters in Mikie Mahtook.
Mahtook won enough battles against Crouse to set the tone and LSU got solid pitching from freshman starter Kurt McCune and reliever Kevin Berry to notch a 7-6 victory at Alex Box Stadium.
Crouse absorbed his first loss this season after allowing a season-worst 10 hits and seven runs – one more than he’d given up in 431/3 innings before Friday.
Causing much of the damage was Mahtook, who went 4-for-4 and poked a pair of opposite-field home runs to right field off Crouse, only the second and third he’s given up this season.
“Mikie put the team on his shoulders (Friday) and that’s what great players do,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he’s one of the best players in the country. When you’re that caliber of player you have great nights like that and he just carried us.”
With Crouse and McCune working in and out of trouble, the game went to the sixth tied 3-3. Mat Snyder jacked a solo homer in the fourth to give the Rebels (18-9, 3-4 SEC) a 3-1 led, but Mahtook started the fourth with his second homer (10th this season) and Alex Edward drove in the tying run with a ground ball.
LSU (19-7, 2-5) bolted in front 7-3 with four runs in the sixth inning to chase Crouse.
After Edward and Ty Ross delivered back-to-back singles, pinch-hitter Grant Dozar put down a perfect bunt on a full-count pitch to move the runners into scoring position.
Leadoff man Raph Rhymes poked a sharp ground ball to short to score Edward with the go-ahead run and Tyler Hanover gave LSU a 5-3 cushion when he rammed a two-out single to center.
Richton native JaCoby Jones chopped a ball up the middle and beat it out for an infield single to bring up the red-hot Mahtook.
Mike Bianco summoned Mike Mayers to face Mahtook, who drilled a liner into right-center to score Hanover. Catcher Taylor Hightower took the relay throw and tried to gun down Mahtook advancing to second base, but the throw sailed into center field to let Jones dash home.
The Rebels go three runs back in the eighth inning when Preston Overby greeted reliever Ryan Eades with a single, Snyder doubled and Miles Hamblin zipped a two-run triple just inside the first-base bag.
Mainieri brought in Berry, who allowed Taylor Hightower’s infield RBI single to close the gap to 7-6. But Berry retired the final six – the top of the Ole Miss batting order – and slammed the door by fanning Overby for the final out.
“”We hit the ball really hard (Friday),” Bianco said after the Rebels 10-hit night. Snyder and Tanner Mathis each had two hits and every starter but Blake Newalu had a hit. Every hitter except Smith also struck out at least once.
“Offensively we did a pretty good job against a guy who was been tough on everybody. Matt Crouse really battled out there, (but) we just didn’t do enough to help him out early.”
Before Snyder and Mahtook exchanged homers, Ole Miss moved in front 2-1 on Alex Yarbrough’s run-scoring double and Matt Tracy’s two-out RBI single in the third.
McCune gave up the home run and then retired 12 of the last 17 hitters he faced to nab the win and improve to 5-0.
The series resumes at 6:30 p.m. today David Goforth (0-4) goes for the Rebels.