LSU works late to drop Kentucky in SEC tournament; Tigers play again late Friday | LSU

LSU works late to drop Kentucky in SEC tournament;  Tigers play again late Friday |  LSU

HOOVER, Ala. — Kentucky coach Nick Mingione was fuming.

In the bottom of the fourth inning of LSU’s long-delayed, 11-6 late-night win against the Wildcats in the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday, Dylan Crews had slid home on a squeeze bunt by Jordan Thompson.

Crews’ hand landed on the plate as catcher Devin Burkes’ glove landed on top of his hip. Crews stood up, celebrating, as the umpire called him safe, while Burkes turned to the dugout, appealing for help.

“Dylan got in and he (Burkes) hit his body, but he already had his hand on the plate,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said.

Mingione challenged the call, which stood after replay review. Right-hander Zack Lee closed out the inning, retiring LSU on two flyouts. But Mingione hadn’t had enough. He emerged from the dugout, exchanging words with the plate umpire, who shot his arm forcefully in the air twice, ejecting the Kentucky coach.

With the win, the Tigers (38-18) advanced to another game under the lights, facing No. 1-seeded Tennessee as the fourth game Friday at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.

The first game Friday will start at 9:30 am LSU is likely headed for another all-nighter.

On Thursday, the Tigers’ bats picked up where they left off at Vanderbilt in a three-game sweep to finish the regular season. Josh Pearson set a school record with five hits, including a towering homer to right field in the seventh.

Pearson was 5 for 5, boosting an LSU lineup that was missing star veterans like Jacob Berry and Cade Doughty, who sat out, nursing lingering injuries.

“I hope the NCAA (selection) committee is watching tonight. You’ve got a guy who’s going to go in the top 10 picks (Berry) and a guy who’s going to go in the top 45 picks (Doughty) on offense, and it was 11 runs on the board,” Johnson said. “I think it quantifies and shows the strength of our team.”

Pearson had a single in the first, a double in the third, a single in the fourth and a single in the sixth. Facing his third pitcher of the night from the Wildcats in the seventh inning, Jackson Nove, he barreled a ball beyond the right-field bullpen for the Tigers’ first home run of the tournament, scoring two to make it 11-3.

“I think everybody was super-excited to get out there. We’ve been sitting in the hotel a while, hitting BP for a few days,” Pearson said. “Jay told me to sit on a slider, because every time I face a lefty, I see a lot of sliders. So I was waiting on one I could drive, and he gave me a couple I missed. Then I finally connected.”

Tyler McManus also had a productive night at the plate, going 3 for 5 with 3 RBIs. Thompson went 1 for 3 with three RBIs.

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M’Khail Hilliard started for the Tigers, and other than a two-run homer in the second inning by Burkes, Hilliard kept the Wildcats scoreless through the next four frames. He allowed two earned runs on four hits with six strikeouts.

LSU was down 2-0 after the first two innings — but by the third, all of the Tigers had seen starting left-hander Mason Hazelwood’s pitches, and they tagged him for three runs.

Crews drew a walk to put the first runner on base, and Pearson’s double put them both in scoring position. After Thompson’s walk loaded the bases, Tre’ Morgan’s groundout scored Crews, cutting Kentucky’s lead to 2-1.

McManus, who had doubled to right-center in the previous inning, lined another to left field this time, driving home two runs for LSU to capture a 3-2 lead.

“In the fall, we fielded two lineups and we were able to put up runs and dominate the mound as well, so that just shows we’re deep,” McManus said.

The Wildcats changed pitchers after designated hitter Gavin Dugas led off with a single and advanced on a wild pitch, but another three-run inning ensued after Crews and Pearson followed up Dugas with a pair of RBI singles.

But Thompson’s squeeze bunt was the most dramatic play.

The Wildcats added their third run on a sac fly by Hunter Jump against Devin Fontenot, who made his school-record setting 111th appearance on the mound. Fontenot had allowed a pair of singles before inducing a flyout. Fontenot retired the side on a groundout.

But Fontenot got into trouble in the top of the eighth, walking two and allowing a three-run home run by Burkes, who finished 4 for 4 with five RBIs.

Grant Taylor, who hadn’t pitched since a May 14 loss against Ole Miss, struck out Jacob Plastiak to retire the side. Riley Cooper came in the top of the ninth to finish the game.

With the win, LSU halted the momentum of a Kentucky team that upset No. 5-seeded Auburn and had claimed four series against top 10 opponents this year, including No. 1 Tennessee.

“They’re playing for a lot right now, so you knew you were going to get their best shot,” Johnson said.

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