TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It seemed LSU couldn’t catch a break Saturday.
Even in the top of the ninth, when the Tigers had runners on the corners with two outs down 8-3, LSU had no luck. Tre’ Morgan lined a hard ground ball to second base, stretching to reach the bag at first. The Sewell-Thomas Stadium celebratory light show started prematurely, but after the umpires reviewed the bang-bang play, Morgan was ruled out and Alabama was declared the winner.
The moment was symbolic of the previous eight innings.
“We dug ourselves a hole,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said. “We’ve got to pitch better. I mean we walked the first three guys on a total of nine pitches, I think sandwiched between two mistakes that were hit pretty hard.”
The Tigers entered the night without star hitter Jacob Berry, who broke his right middle finger during batting practice on Friday. Berry had played the night before, but he was unable to bat left-handed against right-hander Jacob McNairy during Saturday night’s game. Jack Merrifield took his spot at third base.
“It’s a hand injury, he can basically do some things, but can’t do others, it’s going to be a pain tolerance thing,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if he will play tomorrow, but I’m hopeful.”
That was just the start of the team’s problems as defensive miscues put the Tigers in a deficit they didn’t come close to overcoming. LSU had three errors officially scored.
Grant Taylor, who relieved starter Blake Money early in the first inning, airmailed a bunted ball to Morgan at first in the second inning, allowing Caden Rose — who had doubled — to advance two bases and score on the error.
“It’s a tough spot to put him in, he’s not planning on being in the game in the first inning,” Johnson said. “He did a great job of getting us out of that and getting the double play ball. I didn’t think he was sharp in the second and didn’t help himself throwing the ball away, but after that, he did find his way.”
The second error came in the bottom of the fourth when shortstop Jordan Thompson dropped a popup, unable to throw to Cade Doughty in time for the force out. That allowed Drew Williamson to reach first. He later scored on an RBI double by William Hamiter. He would also cross the plate when his double was fumbled by Josh Pearson for the third error of the game.
Injuries didn’t just affect the batting lineup, it also gave the Tigers problems at the catching position.
Starting catcher Tyler McManus winced and held his glove after catching one of Taylor’s pitches in the second inning. He stood up and paused for a moment, talking to head coach Jay Johnson, but stayed at the position.
Drew Bianco, a utility player in both the infield and outfield, ran to the bullpen with catching gear in the second inning, then came in to catch a few of Ty Floyd’s warmup pitches during the seventh-inning stretch. While McManus remained in the game during the seventh inning, Bianco caught the eighth inning.
Dylan Crews had kicked off the night with a solo home run in the first to capture a 1-0 LSU lead, but the Tigers (31-15, 13-10 Southeastern Conference) were unable to drive anyone home through the next four innings with Jacob McNairy on the mound. They left seven runners stranded during the outing, including the bases loaded in the fifth inning.
“I thought we got ourselves in between – trying to cover too much and just got caught between hits and foul balls, a couple guys maybe guessing and that’s way outside of our approach,” Johnson said.
Money struggled in the bottom of the first and did not record an out before being replaced. He walked Jim Jarvis, who scored on Andrew Pinckney’s RBI single, then loaded the bases with another walk and Dominic Tamez’s liner to left field.
Taylor inherited the jam, and he recorded the first out on a sac fly that made the score 2-1. A double play removed him from the predicament.
McNairy allowed four hits while striking out seven and walking three in 5⅔ innings for the Tide. McManus managed a single in the top of the sixth, but Alabama reliever Jake Leger — who inherited the runner — induced a flyout by pinch hitter Gavin Dugas to retire the side.
The Crimson Tide (16-21, 10-13) scored three runs in the second inning on the error by Thompson, a wild pitch and a fielder’s choice for a 5-1 lead. Alabama extended that to 7-1 on an RBI double and error by Pearson in the bottom of the fourth.
Dugas, who hadn’t played in the field since the Auburn series in early April because of a hand injury, came in the game at third base for Merrifield. He’d previously pinch hit against Grambling on April 5 and UL on April 19.
“That wasn’t so much about third base as much as I just wanted to get him in,” Johnson said. “I think we finally have some traction that he’s going to be alright and that just so happened to be the spot to do it. He did make some nice plays, though”
Crews’ two-run homer in the top of the seventh, which followed Doughty’s leadoff single, made the score 7-3.
Floyd relieved Taylor in the fifth inning, and he kept the Crimson Tide scoreless through three innings. Alabama scored its eighth run in the eighth inning off Floyd, who handled the final four innings for the Tigers.
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