It’s not often the top two college baseball teams in the nation square off in a marquee matchup prior to the College World Series, but the SEC boasts that kind of talent year in and year out, and this season is no different.
With Vanderbilt and LSU facing off in the conference championship, college baseball fans were in for a terrific matchup on Sunday.
In a wild 11-inning affair, the Tigers put their No. 1 ranking to the test and came out on top 5-4, capping off an SEC tournament that didn’t lack exciting finishes.
With two tremendous pitching staffs going head to head, it looked like the SEC championship game would be a pitcher’s duel decided by a few timely hits. The latter held true, but the starting pitching didn’t exactly hold up.
Vanderbilt starter Philip Pfeifer was touched up for nine hits and four runs (three earned) in just 3.2 innings of work on the bump for the Commodores. He struck out three and walked just one, but Pfeifer clearly didn’t have his best stuff pitching against a stacked LSU lineup.
Most of the damage was done in the top of the second inning and it all started with Pfeifer’s only walk. With one out, Christian Ibarra worked the count full and walked, advancing to second on a single off the bat of Ty Ross.
Two hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly later, the Tigers had pinned three runs on Vanderbilt’s starter en route to an early 3-0 lead (via LSU Baseball Twitter account):
LSU Baseball @LSUbaseball
McMullen lines out to right, scoring Foster from 3B! Tigers lead 3-0.5/26/2013, 8:56:49 PM
But LSU starter Brent Bonvillain had his own issues early in the contest, and it wouldn’t be long before Vanderbilt found itself right back in the mix.
Connor Harrell singled up the middle to start the Commodores’ half of the second inning, followed by a Conrad Gregor double to left center. After a fielder’s choice and another single into center field, Vanderbilt had cut the Tigers’ lead in half and added to Bonvillain’s pitch count early in the game.
The LSU lefty went four innings in the start and only allowed those two earned runs, but his performance left at least five innings for the Tigers’ bullpen to silence the opposition’s bats.
And in the bottom of the seventh, Vanderbilt finally got to that bullpen.
With one out in the seventh, it was Harrell again who would start a small rally with another base knock up the middle. Gregor followed suit to move his teammate to third and swiped second to give the Commodores two runners in scoring position with just one out.
Zander Wiel followed after being hit by Nate Fury’s offering, setting the table for a one-out, two-run single to right off the bat of Vince Conde to tie the game at 4-4 (via VandyBaseball Twitter account):
Vanderbilt Baseball @VandyBaseball
Bases loaded this time for Conde and HE DELIVERS with a 2-run single. All tied up at The Met 4-4 in the 7th.5/26/2013, 11:09:05 PM
The Tigers went on to strand a pair in the eighth and go in order in the ninth, leaving the door wide open for Vanderbilt to stage a last-inning comeback to win the SEC championship.
Unfortunately for the Commodores, that comeback wouldn’t happen.
Vanderbilt put its winning baserunner aboard with one out, but Rhett Weisman and Spencer Navin both popped out on offerings from closer Chris Cotton, whom LSU brought on to face the left-handed-hitting Weisman. Cotton did his job and forced extra innings in a tremendous game that lived up to the billing from start to finish.
The title game was the fifth SEC tournament contest that went to extras, and it may have been the most thrilling of them all (via Chuck Dunlap):
Going to extra innings for a record fifth time during the SEC Baseball Tournament— Chuck Dunlap(@SEC_Chuck) May 26, 2013
Both teams went down without much resistance in the 10th, but LSU wasn’t prepared to let the game go beyond the 11th inning.
In the top of the 11th, Jared Foster was hit by a pitch with one out to give the Tigers the baserunner they needed. He stole second to get into scoring position with just one out, and outfielder Chris Sciambra did the rest (via LSU Baseball Twitter account):
LSU Baseball @LSUbaseball
Base hit up the middle from Chris Sciambra!! Tigers back in front 5-4!!5/27/2013, 12:10:02 AM
From there, it was up to LSU’s dominant closer to seal the deal. Cotton came on with all the pressure and brushed it off just as quickly as he retired the Commodores in order.
The No. 2 team in the nation made it interesting, but the Tigers closed the door on its title hopes in impressive fashion.
With the win, LSU will advance to the College World Series, likely as the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. With any luck, the two squads will square off again for a rematch.