HOOVER, Ala. —It’s the SEC tournament, so not even an outbreak of Murphy’s Law seemingly can deter LSU from its appointed rounds.
The Tigers won their seventh straight SEC tournament opener Tuesday night with their biggest comeback of the year, overcoming three errors and some other bizarre glove work that led to an early four-run deficit to beat South Carolina 8-6 and advance to the double-elimination portion of the tournament.
The Tigers (35-22), who are now assured of two more games in Hoover, will play Mississipi State tonight at approximately 8 p.m.
LSU will now have Eric Walker and Landon Marceaux on the mound for the Wednesday and Thursday games.
A loss Tuesday would have sent the Tigers home and might have been disastrous for LSU’s’ hopes of hosting an NCAA tournament regional.
It could easily come down to the Tigers and Texas A&M for a host spot, and LSU kept up with the Aggies, who beat Florida 8-7 in 11 innings in the tournament’s first game Tuesday morning.
It certainly didn’t look good for LSU early on.
But the Tigers bounced back from an early 5-1 deficit as Devin Fontenot pitched 4.1 innings of shut out relief while Cade Beloso went 3-for-4 with three RBIs to key the comeback.
“Really the key to the game was Devin Fontenot who came in in the third inning,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He just kind of took the team and put us on his shoulders.”
Fontenot, who has struggled in recent weeks while losing his job as the team’s closer, struck out four while limiting the Gamecocks to just one hit over his 4.1 innings.
“He took control of the ball game and he was awesome,” Mainieri said. “It gave us time to get our feet on the ground.”
“Coach kind of had a talk with me,” Fontenot said. “He told me I’ve got to go out there and act like I want to be out there and don’t pitch too timid. Don’t be too fine, just let it rip. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing.”
Todd Peterson pitched the final 2.2 innings for the Tigers for his third save of the season.
LSU starter Cole Henry, who was making his first start after missing the last four weekends with elbow soreness, probably deserved a better fate than giving up five runs in the second inning, when South Carolina scored all of its runs to put LSU in a 5-1 hole.
“It was very encouraging for me for next weekend,” Mainieri said of Henry’s outing while looking ahead to the NCAA tournament. “The most encouraging thing is he’s feeling OK and he felt good.”
“I thought Cole was throwing the ball extremely well. I thought we were going to play really well and then the second inning was kind of Murphy’s Law.”
LSU took an early 1-0 lead when shortstop Josh Smith led off the bottom of the first with a solo home run.
But in that second inning, the Gamecocks’ leadoff man reached when a routine shot to second base got stuck in the webbing of Brandt Broussard’s glove and the next batter reached on catcher’s interference when Saul Garza’s mitt was hit by a swing on an attempted pitchout.
Third baseman Hal Hughes later had an error and ...
“It snowballed and they throw up the five-spot and that isn’t exactly how we had it planned,” Mainieri said. “But I knew our guys wouldn’t quit.”
Trailing 5-1 Beloso came through with a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the second as the Tigers answered to cut the deficit to 5-3.
“Gave us some momentum,” Mainieri said.
The Tigers took the lead with three runs in the fourth when Smith had an RBI single and later scored on a wild pitch, followed by Daniel Cabrera’s RBI single up the middle for a 6-5 LSU advantage.
LSU added two runs in the fifth when rightfielder Antoine Duplantis and Beloso delivered RBI singles.