LSU’s Paul Mainieri expected Thursday night’s series opener against No. 10 Ole Miss at Oxford-University Stadium to be a battle. With his ace, right-hander Aaron Nola on the mound, he was hoping his No. 7 Tigers would win 2-1.
The Tigers weren’t able to hold the one-run lead as the Rebels scored in the bottom of the eighth inning, leading to the contest being decided in extra innings. LSU went on to win the contest 4-3 in a game lasted over four and a half hours. Mainieri, who saw his team win for the ninth time in their last 10 games, gave a ton of credit to Ole Miss’ starting pitcher, Chris Ellis, and the way the Rebels battled at the plate against Nola, who entered the contest with an ERA of 0.70.
“It looked like for a while we were going to win a 2-1 game. I knew their kid was really good but I wouldn’t trade my guy for anybody in the world of course. I thought Aaron pitched well enough to win. It’s really a shame, but they rallied against him and they were able to come back and tie the ballgame. Aaron gave it everything he had for his team, like he always does. Anything short of that performance tonight and we lose,” Mainieri said. “Aaron was the key to even have a chance for us to win tonight and I’m sure (Ole Miss’) Mike (Bianco) would say the same thing about his boy. He pitched his heart out tonight as well. We expected a hard-fought, close game. We had a similar game to this a couple of years ago. I think we had that lead in that one, they tied it up and we went into extra innings. We’ve had a lot of these types of games. I thought both teams were very resilient. They both hung in there and kept battling and kind of refused to lose.”
Ole Miss finished with eight hits against Nola, the most he has allowed to any opponent all season long.
“I knew Ole Miss had a good hitting team and they came out right away and put some good swings on balls,” Mainieri said. “I thought Aaron did a good job, but he had to work for everything that he got tonight. Ole Miss was tough on him, he was tough on them, it was just a great battle.”
Two errors turned out to be the Rebels’ downfall in the loss, with the second, charged to shortstop Errol Robinson, coming in the top of the 13th inning. Pinch-hitter Danny Zardon put the ball in play for the Tigers, and when Robinson allowed the ball to get past him and into left field, Connor Hale, who doubled, was able to score. Zardon had only played in 18 total games before Thursday night, and he came in hitting .267, with eight RBIs in 30 at bats.
“It’s a tough situation to put (Zardon) in. We had put (Jake) Fraley in to pinch hit for (Kramer) Robertson and he was able to get a base hit that scored us a run. Fortunately for us, Zardon played eight innings for us the other night in New Orleans, so he got his feet back wet again. He hadn’t played in a while. I think that helped him handle the situation. I don’t think it was too big for him,” Mainieri said. “It was a shame we couldn’t have won it after Fraley came through with that big base hit. We had other chances to increase the lead and we didn’t get that done. I was worried it was going to back to haunt us.”
By John Davis
Oxford Citizen Sports Editor