LSU's Mason Katz, left, slides safely into home as Mississippi State's Mitch Slauter is late with the tag Friday. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, May 25, 2012 10:27 PM
HOOVER, Ala. — When LSU decided to head home from the Southeastern Conference tournament, the Tigers went out with a grand meltdown.
Head Paul Mainieri admitted the top-seeded Tigers were fortunate to shut out Mississippi State for seven innings, but he also thought it had set up perfectly.
But the Tigers’ two most reliable relievers combined to blow a three-run lead in the eighth and ninth innings and the No. 7 Bulldogs tacked on another run in the 10th to eliminate the Tigers 4-3.
“It’s a tough loss for us, but it’s something we’ll rebound from,” said Mainieri, whose Tigers (43-16) headed home still confident of being named one of the eight national seeds when the NCAA tournament field is announced on Monday.
“Next week is what really matters going forward … it was tough for us, but we’ll put it behind us and get ready for next week.”
Mississippi State (37-22) advanced to today’s semifinals, where it will play No. 2 seed Kentucky (43-15), which had off Wednesday and Friday.
“A game we seemingly had in hand, and then you can’t hold the lead,” Mainieri said.
Matthew Britton, a .149 hitter who entered the game as a pinch runner when the Bulldogs tied it with two runs in the ninth, delivered the winning single on a 3-2 pitch from Nick Rumbelow that went just off the glove of second baseman JaCoby Jones, allowing Mitch Slaughter to score.
“When I saw him dive my stomach kind of dropped because I thought he had caught it,” Britton said.
Maybe the amazing thing was that it took the Bulldogs so long.
LSU starter Ryan Eades labored at times but somehow got through six innings unscathed and left a 3-0 lead for the normally reliable bullpen.
But after a perfect seventh inning, Chris Cotton opened the eighth by walking the first batters on four pitches apiece.
“Maybe the first time in his career he’s done that,” Mainieri said.
Cotton got out of it allowing one run and turned over a 3-1 lead to closer Nick Goody for the ninth.
“We still had a two-run lead and, with the way Nick pitched for us all year, we felt pretty good about it,” Mainieri said. “It just didn’t work out.”
Goody gave up a leadoff double to Wes Rea, just fair off the glove of diving right fielder Mason Katz, then gave up consecutive singles to score one run and the Bulldogs tied it on Luis Pollorena’s sacrifice fly.
“We had some baseball misfortune,” Mainieri said.
Pollerena, who entered the game in the eighth as a pinch runner, was taking his fourth at-bat of the season and got his first career RBI.
“We went after him with fastballs,” Mainieri said. “We thought one up in his eyes would get by him, but Nick left it down around the thighs and he got it.”
Goody (1-2), who blew his second save of the season, got the loss after giving up a leadoff double to Slaughter in the 10th.
“Today they just jumped on his fastball,” said LSU shortstop Austin Nola. “He wasn’t doing anything different. Nine times out of 10 he closes that game out.”
The Tigers, not known for particularly efficient base running, could trace two of their runs to daring-do on the paths.
Jordy Snikeris’ first-inning infield single off the foot of State starting pitcher Jacob Lindgren produced two runs when Katz didn’t slow down rounding third.
An inning later, Jones went from first to third on a ground out, allowing him to score on Nola’s ground out.
But that was it for the Tigers, despite some later chances.
“I don’t know that it was a letdown (as much) as quality pitching by Mississippi State,” Mainieri said.
Eades struggled at times walking four and hitting another and regularly falling behind in the count. But he got the outs he needed and benefited from two double plays and a diving catch of line drive near the foul line by Raph Rhymes with two on to end the second inning.
The Tigers also threw out a State runner at the plate on Rea’s ill-advised attempt to lumber home from first on a double by Sam Frost.
“It thought we were fortunate to be shutting them out,” Mainieri said. “We were kind of living on the edge, which is pretty typical of Ryan Eades’ starts.
“He always seems to get out of it and we made some really good plays behind him.”
NOTES: The NCAA will announce the 16 regional host sites on Sunday with the entire field and eight national seeds to be announced Monday. … Friday was the first time Mainieri was eliminated from the SEC tournament. His Tigers didn’t make the tournament in 2007 or last year, but won in 2008, 2009 and 2010. … LSU and State have played five games this year with four of them decided by one run, two in extra innings. LSU won the first two in Baton Rouge, but the Bulldogs have won the last three, two of them here in Hoover. … LSU fell to 4-3 in extra-inning games this season. It was Goody’s second blown save of the season but the second time in his last three opportunities.