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By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
LSU’s emerging ace in the hole proved himself to be the Tigers’ trump card once again.
Eric Walker proved the difference in another tight rubber match, holding Ole Miss to two runs on six hits across 6.2 efficient innings of work. The LSU bullpen took it from there and tamped out some fires late to nail down a 3-2 result and a series victory at Alex Box Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
LSU has now won consecutive SEC West series thanks to rubber match victories behind its true freshman third starter. Walker struck out five and didn’t walk a batter to improve to 5-0 while LSU improved to 25-12 overall and 9-6 at the halfway point of the SEC season.
LSU took an early lead thanks to the assistance of two unforced errors. Jordan Romero led off the second inning with a single to left, and took second base once the ball was bobbled in the outfield. He scored when Rebel second baseman Tate Blackman booted a routine ground ball with two outs.
Blackman got the run back in the next inning, however. He connected on another solo home run to left, his third of the series, to even the game at one apiece. The blast also snapped a string of 18 consecutive scoreless innings for Walker.
The Tigers retook the lead in the bottom of the inning on a two-out solo home run to right off the bat of Greg Deichmann, his 12th of the season. He’s now surpassed his home run total from a year ago in just 37 games.
Walker settled into a groove from there, retiring the next seven batters in a row after the Blackman home run. Grae Kessinger’s hustle double broke that streak, and the Rebels advanced the tying run to third base with one in the sixth inning, which forced LSU to bring the infield in.
Will Golsan scalded a ball the other way — right at Cole Freeman. The second baseman made the catch and fired to third to double off the runner and end the inning. Freeman turned in another web gem earlier, ranging behind the bag and making a throw across his body from shallow left field for an out.
LSU rode that momentum into an insurance run in the bottom of the inning. Nick Coomes extended his hitting streak to six games with an opposite field double. Jake Slaughter then pinch ran for him and scored easily on a RBI single up the middle from Josh Smith.
Smith, who singled to advance Romero to third base back in the second inning, owns all three of LSU’s hits with runners in scoring position over the final two games of the series.
That extra cushion proved crucial as Ole Miss came back with a run in the top of the seventh. Nick Fortes singled up the middle with two outs to bring the Rebels back within a run, and another single chased Walker from the game.
Zack Hess entered as a light drizzle began to fall and struck out Bryan Seamster on four pitches to extinguish the threat. The emerging late-inning weapon struck out the first two batters of the eighth inning before allowing consecutive singles that once again put the tying run in scoring position.
Even with Hunter Newman ready in the bullpen, LSU coach Paul Mainieri stuck with Hess. His faith in the freshman was rewarded as Hess induced a grounder to second base to escape again. Newman then came on to worked around a leadoff walk to earn his fifth save of the season.
LSU will be back in action on Tuesday night as Lamar comes to Alex Box Stadium. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m.