OXFORD, Miss. – For LSU's Grant Dozar, the preferred word of the night Friday was easy to settle on.
And after the performance the Tigers’ senior designated hitter and team leader delivered against Ole Miss at Swayze Field, nobody was about to take that away from him.
|Grant Dozar: Ties game in the 8th inning with a home run and drives in the game-winner in the 13th.|
Starting for the first time since April 25, Dozar twice produced big hits for No. 4-ranked LSU, as the Tigers claimed a stirring 4-3 victory in 13 innings over the 24th-ranked Rebels in the series opener.
Just how big? Really need to ask?
“We’re in a huge race,” Dozar said after the Tigers stretched their SEC West lead over Arkansas and Mississippi State to four games and stayed tied with South Carolina for the overall league lead.
“You try not to scoreboard watch, but it’s hard not to do that. You get a huge win on the road at Ole Miss – one of the toughest places to play in the league. It’s huge.”
Like so many other LSU wins this season, there were plenty of components.
Starting pitcher Kevin Gausman logged 7.2 strong innings. The Tigers bullpen came through again with 5.1 frames of shutout work. Freshman first baseman Tyler Moore got LSU on the scoreboard with a solo home run and Raph Rhymes did, well, what he has done most of the season with a pair of hits, one chasing in a run with two outs and came around to score the winning run.
The role of primary hero belonged to Dozar, though, and for a journeyman senior who has never quiet nailed down a permanent starting job, it was a sweet moment in a career when he’s had plenty of big ones.
“Any time you get an opportunity to help your team win, and you do that and make a difference, it’s an awesome thing,” Dozar said.
No doubt that Dozar both made a difference and helped the Tigers (37-10, 15-7 SEC) win their seventh series-opening game if eight league series and sixth in a row. Friday’s win allowed LSU to surpass its win total from last season and the 15th league win is the Tigers’ most since 2009 when they went 20-10.
Ole Miss (30-17, 10-12) put that streak in serious jeopardy when it got to Gausman for two runs in the seventh inning to take a 3-2 lead.
The Rebels nicked Gausman for a single run in the sixth on Tanner Mathis’ RBI single, and matt snyder jacked a leadoff home run in the seventh to draw them even.
Will Allen smacked the first pitch after the bomb to center for another single and Ole Miss caught a break when John Gatlin’s infield bloop landed in front of second baseman JaCoby Jones right as Allen crossed in front of him. It looked at first that the ball had ricocheted off Allen, which would’ve been an out.
But first-base umpire Scott Erby ruled that the ball had landed cleanly, putting Ole Miss runners on first and second with nobody out. Austin Anders moved them up with a bunt and Allen dashed home when Auston Bousfield slammed a fly ball to center field for a sacrifice fly.
That put LSU behind for the first time all night, and things got bleaker in the eighth inning when Rebels’ reliever R.J. Hively replaced starter Bobby Wahl and immediately struck out Rhymes and Moore to begin the frame and then jumped in front of Dozar.
But on an 0-and-1 offering, Dozar caught a slider down and away and drove into to deep left field where it banged off the top of the fence and caromed over for his third home run of the season.
“That left fielder looked like he was camped under for a bit,” Dozar said. “Then I saw him spinning around a little bit. I was just putting my head down and running hard. Once I heard the crowd get kinda quiet, I figured the ball had cleared the fence.”
It had done just that, the game was tied and the Tigers had new life.
|R.J. Hively: Logged six tough innings out of the bullpen, but took the loss|
They didn’t get to Hively for much over the next four innings, but the LSU bullpen was gritty as well.
Ole Miss generated threats in the 10th, 11th and 12th innings, moving the potential winning run into scoring position each time. But Nick Rumbelow and Brent Bonvillain stranded two runners in the 10th with back-to-back strikeouts, Bonvillain came back to get Anderson and Bousfield in the 11th and Joey Bourgeois survived the 12th by striking out three-hole hitter Alex Yarbrough and inducing an wicked inning-ending line drive off Austin Knight’s bat right to shortstop Austin Nola.
In the Rebels’ 12th inning, Preston Overby led off with his second single and moved to second on Mathis’ bunt. Bourgeois walked light-hitting Jake Overby (.176 when the game began) before getting Yarbrough.
With Snyder due up, LSU coach Paul Mainieri trotted out to the mound.
As he passed Snyder, Mainieri had a message.
“Not tonight big fella,” Mainieri said. “I’m not going to let you beat us tonight.”
So Snyder got the intentional pass, putting the potential winning run 90 feet away. Bourgeois fell behind Knight 2-and-0, got a strike and then snuffed the rally.
|Joey Bourgeois: Battled through an active 12th inning to grab a win out of the bullpen.|
“The only thing going through my head is ‘I can’t let my team down,’ ” said Bourgeois, who claimed his third win. “We worked so hard throughout the fall and the beginning of the year just to get to this point. I put it in my head that I would do everything and anything not to let my team down in that situation.”
Dozar followed the same mantra in the 13th.
Rhymes walked with one out and Moore yanked a single to right field to send Rhymes hustling to third base. Hively and Dozar waged a battle to a full count before the LSU senior again took a slider the other way, poking a hit just past the third baseman that Anderson fielded deep in the shortstop hole for an RBI infield single.
“If they’re going to give it to you on the outside corner, you have to be disciplined enough to sit and look for it and go that way,” Dozar said. “That’s usually when good things happen.”
Same might be said of the occasions when Mainieri inserts Dozar in the lineup, whether it’s for a game or a stretch.
Friday’s start was a hunch Mainieri played after assistant coach Will Davis suggested that the tough-as-nails Wahl had struggled at times against left-handed hitters this season.
“I thought we’d try to stack those two lefties (Moore and Dozar) behind Raph,” Mainieri said. “Then maybe (Wahl) might hesitate to pitch around Rhymes with Moore and Dozar waiting behind him.”
Moore made that strategy pay off when he jolted a one-out solo homer to right field on the first pitch he saw from Wahl in the second inning.
Dozar’s presence proved bigger later in the game and made a prophet out of his coach.
“We decided to put him in there and see if he could get a few swings and see what might happen,” Mainieri said.
Those swings? Well, they were huge.
And when Nick Goody came out of the bullpen and notched a scoreless 13th inning for his 9th save, Dozar’s hits proved to be even bigger than huge.
They were the difference in another one-run SEC win for LSU – the Tigers’ 10th in league play this season.
“It was just a tenacious win,” Mainieri said. “Everybody contributed. Our bullpen was phenomenal. Everybody came in and did the job.”
The series resumes at 2 p.m. Saturday, a game that will be televised on SportSouth.
SERIES UPDATE: LSU 4, Ole Miss 3 (13)
Longing for the recent past