By John Zenor/The Associated Press
HOOVER, Ala. — Southeastern Conference powers Vanderbilt and LSU finally faced each other, and it took a couple of extra innings to settle the matter.
Pinch-hitter Chris Sciambra’s single in the top of the 11th inning scored Jared Foster and lifted the second-seeded Tigers to a 5-4 victory over No. 1 Vandy on Sunday in the SEC tournament championship game.
It was the Tigers’ first hit in 6 2-3 innings against Vandy relievers. LSU (52-9) claimed its SEC-best 10th tournament title in a battle of teams that figure to be among the favorites to contend for a national title.
“What a tremendous ballgame. Wow,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Win or lose, it was just a great, great ball game between two teams fighting their hearts out to win. A lot at stake, not just the SEC tournament championship but you’ve got No. 1 against the No. 2 team in the country.
“We didn’t get a chance to play each other during the regular season. Hopefully we’ll meet again.”
That rematch would have to come at the College World Series.
The Commodores (51-9), who might be the No. 1 national seed, have lost in the SEC championship game the past three years and are 0-4 since winning in 2007.
Foster was hit by a pitch from reliever Brian Miller with one out and stole second. Sciambra, batting for Andrew Stevenson, singled up the middle and the throw to the plate was off line.
His eighth RBI of the season was a huge one, especially for a player who sustained a fractured vertebra in his neck last season after crashing into the wall.
“I never had any doubts in my mind if I’d be back playing again this year,” Sciambra said.
LSU closer Chris Cotton (4-1) got three straight groundouts in the ninth. Cotton, a former walk-on who had three saves in the tournament, pitched the final 2 2-3 innings and didn’t allow a hit or walk in four appearances to earn MVP honors
Mainieri said he would have taken Cotton out if the game had remained tied.
It was a record fifth extra-inning game of the tournament.
Jared Foster went 2 for 3 with an RBI and two runs scored for LSU. The right fielder also threw out a runner at home plate in the seventh to keep the game tied.
Stevenson also had two hits, an RBI and made a running catch at the wall to leave the bases loaded in the fifth to preserve a 4-2 lead.
“He saved the game with that play in center field,” Mainieri said.
Vince Conde went 3 for 5 with three RBIs for Vanderbilt. Connor Harrell and Conrad Gregor each had two hits and scored twice.
The Commodores had 11 hits but left 14 runners on base. They scored 16 runs in a semifinal win over Mississippi State.
“We did enough pitching-wise to win that baseball game,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said. “We just couldn’t get the big hit.”
LSU starter Brent Bonvillain allowed two runs in four innings and then turned it over to the bullpen. Cotton was the team’s fifth reliever in the game.
Miller (5-2) pitched 4 1-3 innings, allowing one hit and one run
LSU scored three runs in the second and it might have been an even bigger inning if Vanderbilt’s John Norwood hadn’t thrown out Raph Rhymes at second base after a long hit to left field for the first out.
The next two batters reached base on a walk and single and then Foster lined a hit just out of the reach of right fielder Mike Yastrzemski. Foster got caught heading for second when the other runners had stopped, and second baseman Tony Kemp threw to first trying to catch him going back. Nobody was covering the base, though, and the error allowed another run to score.
The Commodores tied it at 4-4 with Conde’s two-run single off reliever Nick Rumbelow in the seventh, but a big defensive play kept them from taking the lead.
Rumbelow intentionally walked pinch-hitter Andrew Harris to load the bases but Spencer Navin flied out to Foster, who got Zander Wiel at the plate.
“When we tied the game, I felt like we were going to win it,” Corbin said. “We had a couple of opportunities, but we just couldn’t crack the safe.”