LSU scores late to edge past Rebels

n Tigers take sole possession of second place in SEC West.
By Carl Dubois
Special to the Daily Journal
BATON ROUGE, La. – Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco arrived Sunday at Alex Box Stadium, saw the wind blowing in from left field and expected a low-scoring game.
Two outstanding starting pitchers made sure the day lived up to – or perhaps down to – Bianco’s expectations.
Scott Bittle held LSU to one hit and no runs through seven innings. But against reliever Jake Morgan the Tigers turned three hits, two stolen bases and an error into two runs in the bottom of the eighth for a 2-1 comeback victory.
LSU (21-6) won the series to take sole possession of second place in the SEC West at 6-3, one game ahead of third-place Ole Miss (16-8, 5-4).
“We both played very well, we both pitched very well, but we had chances in the eighth to make plays and didn’t make them,” Bianco said. “That’s the difference in the ballgame.”
LSU starter Austin Ross (4-2) pitched eight innings, holding the Rebels to two hits and a walk. He struck out five, but he and the Tigers trailed 1-0 in the bottom of the eighth.
At that point, Ole Miss had put three runners on base, LSU four.
Sean Ochinko led off against Morgan with a single. Pinch runner Chris McGhee stole second and advanced to third when catcher Brett Basham’s throw went into center field.
Morgan struck out Micah Gibbs, but LSU freshman Mikie Mahtook then tied the score.
With the Ole Miss infield drawn in, Mahtook drilled a low, sinking line drive that barely squirted past Rebels second baseman Tim Ferguson on his throwing-hand side.
Morgan said he aimed a slider for the outer half of the plate but threw it too high.
“I’ve got to make a better pitch than that,” he said.
The 0-2 count had Mahtook thinking he had to make contact of any kind.
“I just put the bat on the ball and was fortunate enough for the ball to get through,” he said. “I got fortunate enough to get the short hop, so it all worked out.”
Morgan didn’t question Ferguson’s inability to keep the ball in front of him.
“I can’t blame anybody but myself,” Morgan said.
When the ball was in the air, Bianco thought it was a line-drive double play in the works, but when it skipped under, then rolled slowly past Ferguson’s glove, McGhee sprinted home for the tying run.
Morgan struck out Tyler Hanover, but Jared Mitchell’s sharp single to right made it 2-1.
Mitchell said he knew Morgan was living off his breaking ball and would throw a fastball only to show it, not as an out pitch. Morgan threw a slider inside, and Mitchell met it.
“I got a pitch I could fight off, and that’s exactly what I did,” Mitchell said. “It found a hole.”
Ole Miss put a runner on third in the top of the ninth, but Matty Ott earned his fifth save, his second in two days, by recording outs on three successive batters.
LSU celebrated a series victory that ended with a Sunday score that felt like a Friday night pitchers’ duel.
“Those 17-4 and 19-5 games – they happen, a dime a dozen,” Mitchell said. “When you come to a school like this, this is the type of game you want to play in a league like this.
“It’s fun. This is why you play.”
Bittle said he was on a pitch count.
“We were going to keep it moderate just because of the simple fact that I haven’t gone that far this year,” he said. “That’s the longest I’ve thrown this year. I felt pretty tired.”
Bianco said Bittle wasn’t on a pitch count, but rather was monitored to see how he felt. When Bittle “got to around 100 pitches,” Bianco said, it was time to come out.
Bianco looked back on LSU’s three steals against Basham, a top defensive catcher, and the missed defensive chances late in the game.
“I know they’re all tough plays,” Bianco said, “but you’ve got to make those plays. They made some tough plays too, and really that was the difference.”
n Box scores, Page 2B

John Wilbert