LSU baseball off to best start since 1986

David Steinle
Mason Katz celebrates after a three-run homer. Photo by

A five-run third inning allowed LSU to erase a four-run deficit, and stellar relief pitching made it stand up as the Fighting Tigers (No. 2 USA Today/ESPN, No. 3 Baseball America, No. 4 Collegiate Baseball) completed a three-game Southeastern Conference sweep of Missouri with a 6-5 decision on Easter Sunday at Taylor Stadium.

LSU (26-2 overall, 8-1 SEC) won its eighth consecutive game and ends the weekend tied with Vanderbilt (8-1) for the overall SEC lead. LSU is 26-2 for only the second time in school history, matching the 28-game start of the Tigers' 1986 squad. The Tigers are 8-1 in SEC play for the first time since the 1997 club won eight of its first nine league games.

This was LSU's first conference series with Missouri (9-15, 2-7), which joined the league in July 2012. Until this weekend, the schools faced each other only two times, and not at all since 1987.

LSU won its fourth straight SEC road series, dating back to last season, and the Tigers have won five of their last six league series away from home. The sweep was LSU's first on the road since March 26-27, 2010, when the Tigers swept Tennessee in Knoxville. LSU, which swept Auburn last weekend, also posted back-to-back league sweeps for the first time since the final two series of the 2008 regular season.

"It's so difficult to sweep an SEC series, especially on the road, so we're very proud of the way our players competed this weekend," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "We fought back from the early deficit with some big hits, including another home run by Mason Katz, and our relief pitching was tremendous to allow us to get back into the game. We played great defense all weekend with just one error."

Trailing 5-1 entering the third, LSU immediately created trouble for Missouri starting pitcher Alec Rash when Alex Bregman led off with a ground ball single and Raph Rhymes walked, bringing up the team's home run leader, Mason Katz.

For the third time in as many games, Katz made Missouri pay on a high fastball, depositing one over the right-center field fence for the three-run home run which trimmed the margin to 5-4.

Reliever Keaton Steele (2-1), who was charged with the loss, walked Christian Ibarra before Missouri committed two crucial errors.

Steele should have been out of the inning, but Missouri third-baseman Shane Segovia misplayed a ground ball by JaCoby Jones, and right-fielder Dane Opel dropped a fly ball by Ty Ross.

Sean McMullen capitalized on the miscues with a two-run single back through the box to put LSU on top again.

Four relievers, led by senior left-hander Brent Bonvillain, kept the scoreboard frozen at 6-5 the rest of the way.

Bonvillain worked 4 1/3 hitless, scoreless innings to earn the victory, improving to 2-0 on the campaign. He entered the game with two out in the third and worked through the seventh.

Joey Bourgeois retired the first two batters of the eighth before hitting Shane Segovia. Closer Chris Cotton came in to face left-handed Logan Pearson, and the LSU southpaw struck out Pearson looking.

Case Munson led off the bottom of the ninth with a single under the glove of third-baseman Ibarra, but Cotton retired the next three batters for his second save of the series and eighth of the season.

Missouri broke through in the bottom of the first on an RBI-single by Kelly to tie the game at 1-1.

LSU starter Cody Glenn retired the first two batters in the Missouri second, but he loaded the bases by walking Segovia, allowing a single to Logan Pearson and hitting Case Munson on the right knee.

Glenn hit the next two batters, Opel and Kelly, to force in a pair of runs and put Missouri in front for the first time in the series.

Reliever Kevin Berry gave up a two-run single to Jake Ivory before striking out Kendall Keeton.

The Tigers return to action with non-conference games Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at home vs. Alcorn State, and Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Zephyr Field in Metairie vs. Southern Mississippi.

LSU hosts Kentucky (21-6, 6-3) next weekend in SEC play.