LSU coach Paul Mainieri would have preferred more runs Saturday, but he'll certainly take the 5-1 victory that clinched the series against Auburn.
No. 7 LSU (21-2, 4-1 SEC) had its opportunities to bust the game open, but left Auburn (15-8, 0-5 SEC) within shouting distance until the very end. Ryan Eades pitched a gem, earning his fifth win of the season, and LSU did string together 11 hits on Saturday.
But it was a pair of innings late in the game in which Auburn stranded the bases loaded that secured the victory for LSU.
"On one hand, I'm really proud of our team, because they show remarkable composure and pose when things start to get difficult," Mainieri said. "That's a quality of championship team. Given a choice, I'd rather them have that than bust games open, but I wish once in a while we would when bust one open we have a chance."
LSU jumped ahead 5-0 heading into the fifth inning. Eades had only allowed two baserunners at that point — neither advancing past first base. But three straight hits opened the top half of the inning, and Auburn pushed across a run thanks to a RBI-single by 3B Damek Tomscha.
C Blake Austin followed Toscha with a single and a sacrifice bunt advanced the runners into scoring position with one out. But Eades got a strikeout and a grounder to third to escape that threat.
Auburn loaded the bases in the sixth on a pair of one-out singles and a two-out walk. But again it was a grounder to Christian Ibarra at third that got Eades out of the jam.
"Once again, I got myself into some jams and let them get runners in scoring position a few times in the game," Eades said. "I made pitches and let the defense play behind me to try to get out of those jams…I left a pitch or two up and I made a couple of two strike pitches that weren't too good tonight. I was fortunate that my defense played well behind me and turned some double plays to get me out of some jams."
Auburn mounted one last threat in the eighth, loading the bases for the second time in three frames. Reliever Joey Bourgeois allowed two hits and a walk to fill them up with only one out.
With the tying run at the plate, Bourgeois got Austin to ground into a 6-4-3 double play and escape the inning.
"I walked a guy and I gave up a couple hits, but I got the job done," Bourgeois said. "In the end, I got the zero, and that's what it comes down to. I made the big pitch when it was on the line."
The heart of the order proved clutch for LSU in the early innings. Alex Bregman, Raph Rhymes and Mason Katz all drove in runs as the home team brought in a pair of runs in the first and fourth innings, with one more in the third.
"I did whatever it took to get on base tonight," said Mark Laird, who scored three times. "It's pretty easy for me to do that when I have guys like Bregman behind me in the order. Also, Rhymes and Katz being there makes it easy for me to score most of the time if I get on base. That definitely happened tonight."
But LSU didn't score again after the fourth inning, stranding the bases loaded in the fifth inning, and leaving a runner on third in the seventh.
Though Chris Cotton did close it out in the ninth with a four-run lead, Mainieri would have rather it been a much larger deficit.
"I've got 30 years of experience, and I'm counting how many batters until the tying run comes up right to the very end of the game," Mainieri said. "I wish I didn't have to worry all the time, but we had a chance to break the game open…You have to do those things, and you won't be on the edge of your seat the whole game."
No. 7 LSU took the series opener against Auburn with a 9-4 victory on Friday night…