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Big Swings, Relief Pitching Save LSU Baseball in 12-6 Game Two Win Over Texas A&M

Tigers get 11 shutout innings from the LSU bullpen to pull out season saving win

Gavin Dugas looked like he could barely breathe when Drew Bianco's knee connected with his ribs on Friday evening. He had to leave the game and head for the emergency room with his parents to get x-rays, which would eventually come back negative.

Bruised ribs and all, Dugas was able to prepare himself mentally for Saturday's must win game and blasted a two run homer in the first that set the tone for the rest of the game. It went to extra innings but clutch hits out of pinch hitter Zach Arnold and third baseman Cade Doughty was enough to seal the deal in game two 12-6.

The win was No. 1,500 for coach Paul Mainieri, an important milestone that only six other coaches have ever accomplished in college baseball.

"This one is pretty special. I can just tell you this, it's the players that have won the games and I've been lucky to be surrounded by great kids," Mainieri said. "I'm very proud that I've been able to coach 1,500 winning games and I think it's a testament to having really great players and great support. I've been very proud of the career I've had. It's been a labor of love for 39 years."

While it was the offense that largely failed the purple and gold on Thursday, the pitching is what came out sluggish on Friday. Starter AJ Labas continued to struggle on the mound as he was blasted for six runs and six hits in just 1.1 innings of work. 

Trailing 6-2 in the third, the offense had an opportunity to really get back into the game immediately by loading the bases with no outs but weren't able to capitalize as Mitchell Sanford struck out and that was followed by a freak lineout right to the first baseman Will Frizzell, who was able to turn an unlucky double play against the Tigers. 

One of the themes of this season for LSU has been the missed opportunities late in games to put together wins but this time that issue cropped up early in the game and didn't go away until late in the game. Through 13 innings of the series, LSU was able to pick up just one hit total from its four through nine hitters in the lineup. 

Then in one fell swoop, the tide was able to turn as the offense finally got rolling against pitcher Bryce Miller. A Tre Morgan single and Crews walk set up Mitchell Sanford for an RBI single to get the rally started with two outs in the fifth. Then Cade Doughty, who had been 0-for-6 on the weekend to that point, crushed a no doubter home run to tie the game at 6-6. 

It was a swing that completely flipped the momentum of the game but did little to wake up the offense. As the innings waned, LSU found it harder and harder to come away with hits. The Tigers went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position as neither team scored a run from the fifth inning until Arnold and Doughty's hits in the 13th inning.

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LSU was able to load the bases and convert in the 13th, going 4-of-6 in that final inning with runners in scoring position off the clutch hits from Arnold, Doughty and Brody Drost. 

"It's a long time sitting through the game and going into extra innings but you've just always gotta be ready," Arnold said. "That's what we live for as ball players, dreaming of getting the big hit and coming through for your team. Once I got it I was lucky enough to seize it.

"We were taking it one pitch at a time, we had to come through for our pitchers who were keeping it close," Doughty said. "It was a great job by Zach Arnold and we were able to keep it going."

On the mound, freshman Michael Fowler was able to limit the damage for two innings while the offense caught up. The pinnacle stop came in the fifth when the Aggies were able to load the bases with one out and Ty Floyd was called on to get LSU out of a jam with a strikeout and popfly to end the threat with no runs coming across. 

Floyd faced the minimum amount of batters over a 3.2 inning outing, striking out four batters as the Aggies would not score a run after the second inning. Garrett Edwards and Devin Fontenot would then put together two scoreless innings a piece for the best relief performance of the season. 

In the 11 innings the five bullpen pitchers were on the mound, Texas A&M struck out 10 times and allowed just four hits and no runs.

"It was amazing, the relief pitching won the game for us," Mainieri said. "I was just hoping we could scratch a run across and we did."

"Our guys really wanted this game and it was good to see us fight all the way til the end," Fontenot said. "I've seen what the younger guys did before me and do the same thing so that's what I wanted to do." 

With Ma'Khail Hilliard available for tomorrow, expect him to be heavily used as the Tigers look to win the series. 

"We knew what was on the line coming into it and we were able to string together enough at bats to eventually end up on top. We felt the tension a little bit but didn't let it get to our heads," Doughty said.