A three-run fourth inning and a dominant performance by starting pitcher Eric Walker propelled LSU to a 4-2 win over Arkansas in the SEC Baseball Tournament championship at the Hoover Met on Sunday.
It was LSU’s sixth SEC Baseball Tournament championship in the last 10 years, but first since 2014.
“That was a thrilling game today,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “Two teams really going after each other.”
Walker, a freshman, picked up the win and improved his record to 7-1. He pitched into the eighth. Arkansas starter Kevin Kopps took the loss, dropping to 3-1. He pitched into the fourth.
There was plenty of drama in the bottom of the ninth. Arkansas’ Eric Cole hit a two-out single off LSU closer Hunter Newman to score a run. LSU walked Arkansas power hitter Chad Spanberger to load the bases and put the winning run on first and tying on second, but Luke Bonfield hit into a fielder’s choice to end the game.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) May 28, 2017
“That was a pretty bold strategy,” Spanberger said. “Luke is as good of a hitter as I am. He was best suited for that situation.”
The game was played in front of 13,128 fans – fourth most for an SEC Baseball Tournament championship. The tournament attracted 127,479 fans for the week – fifth most in tournament history.
“These are some of the best teams you’ll face all year,” LSU’s Walker said of the SEC. “All year, it’s a grind. I would say it’s a relief coming here (to Hoover), but you’re still playing the best competition possible.”
A national seed for an NCAA Super Regional was almost a given for LSU even without making a deep run in Hoover, but the Tigers swept through the tournament, outscoring opponents 35-5 in four games.
“I think we’re just clicking at the right time,” LSU second baseman Cole Freeman said. “We had never really put it all together, but these last three weeks, we’ve been playing some pretty good baseball. Baseball’s a game that, when you’re hot, you’re really hot.”
KEY MOMENTS: An error keyed LSU’s big fourth inning. After Kramer Robertson singled, Cole Freeman hit a grounder to Jared Gates at third.
A 5-4-3 double play would have been tough, but an out at second was a foregone conclusion had Gates fielded and made the throw, but he bobbled it for an error. LSU loaded the bases with no outs after Antoine Duplantis singled and the Razorbacks were lucky to only get out of the inning with three runs allowed.
“We at least need to get an out there,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said.
Also in the bottom of the fourth, Arkansas’ Dominic Fletcher reached on a bunt single. Carson Shaddy grounded to third and Fletcher slid into Freeman to break up the double play.
Tempers flared briefly as LSU’s bench cleared as it looked like Fletcher intentionally took out Freeman, but the throw from third pulled Freeman off the line and, as Freeman acknowledged, it was a clean slide.
Van Horn said he believed that Freeman never touched second base on the catch and there should have been runners at first and second with no outs.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) May 28, 2017
HITTING STARS: Antoine Duplantis and Josh Smith each had two hits for the Tigers. Nick Coomes drove in a two runs, one on a bases loaded walk and another on a sacrifice fly.
Eric Cole’s solo homer in the third briefly gave Arkansas a 1-0 lead. His ninth-inning single drove in Arkansas’ other run. Dominic Fletcher had two hits, including a double.
MOUND ACE: LSU freshman starter Eric Walker was brilliant, giving up just five hits and one run over 7 2/3 innings. Walker struck out eight. Walker, the normal Sunday starter for the Tigers, is positioned to be one of the best pitchers in the SEC over the next two seasons.
P – Alex Lange, LSU
P – Kacey Murphy, Arkansas
C – Blake Logan, Auburn
DH – Luke Bonfield, Arkansas
1B – Chad Spanberger, Arkansas (Most Valuable Player)
2B – Cole Freeman, LSU
3B – Jonah Bride, South Carolina
SS – Kramer Robertson, LSU
OF – Greg Deichmann, LSU
OF – Antoine Duplantis, LSU
OF – Carlos Cortes, South Carolina
UP NEXT: Both teams will find out later Sunday that they will be NCAA regional hosts. The complete field will be announced on Monday at 11 a.m. on ESPN2.