HOOVER, Ala. -- Designated hitter Blake Dean drove in six runs – including a grand slam in a six-run eighth inning – to lead eighth-ranked LSU to a 12-8 SEC Tournament victory over No. 29 Alabama at Regions Park.
LSU (42-16-1) won its 19th straight game, tying the school record for consecutive victories set by the 1997 club. LSU advances to the SEC Tournament championship game at 3 p.m. Sunday, when it will meet Ole Miss. The Rebels held off a late four-run rally by Vanderbilt to win 8-7 late Saturday.
The Tigers will attempt to win LSU’s seventh SEC tournament title and its first since 2000.
Sunday’s game can be heard on affiliates of the LSU Sports Radio Network and in the Geaux Zone at www.LSUsports.net. The contest will be televised by Fox Sports Net (Cable Ch. 38 in Baton Rouge).
“It was another tremendous win by a great group of kids,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “This was a tough game, and for a long time during the game, we were our own worst enemy. Alabama was able to score off things like wild pitches. It’s been the case all year, though, that our kids don’t panic. They just keep battling. It was another great win for the Tigers, and we’re thrilled to play in the championship game.”
LSU entered the top of the eighth inning trailing 6-4; however, the Tigers erupted for six runs to grab a 10-6 advantage. First baseman Matt Clark led off the inning with a walk, and after Alabama reliever Austin Graham fanned shortstop DJ LeMahieu, centerfielder Leon Landry singled and second baseman Ryan Schimpf walked to load the bases.
Third baseman Michael Hollander drew another walk from Graham to narrow the deficit to 6-5. Alabama reliever Josh Copeland entered the game and was greeted with an RBI single by leftfielder Jared Mitchell to tie the game at 6-6.
Dean then launched a grand slam – his 15th homer of the season – to give LSU a 10-6 lead. The dinger was Dean’s first career grand slam and the third by an LSU player this season.
Alabama rebounded with two runs in the bottom of the eighth against LSU reliever Jared Bradford as shortstop Josh Rutledge’s two-run single reduced LSU’s lead to 10-8.
The Tigers, however, responded with a pair of runs in the ninth. LeMahieu doubled off of reliever Nathan Kilcrease and was sacrificed to third by centerfielder Leon Landry. Kilcrease struck out Schimpf, but Alabama third baseman Jake Smith misplayed Hollander’s grounder, allowing LeMahieu to score.
Hollander stole second base and scored on Mitchell’s double to left-centerfield.
Alabama designated hitter Brandon May reached on LeMahieu’s error to start the bottom of the ninth, but Bradford retired first baseman Matt Bentley on a fly ball to center and rightfielder Kent Matthes grounded into a double play to end the game.
LSU freshman right-hander Anthony Ranaudo (1-0) recorded his first career collegiate victory, holding Alabama scoreless in the sixth and seventh innings. Ranaudo allowed just one hit while recording one walk and two strikeouts.
Graham (6-2) was charged with the loss as he surrendered four runs on one hit in 0.2 inning with three walks and one strikeout.
LSU held a 2-0 lead in the third when Dean delivered a two-run single, and the Tigers increased the margin to 3-0 in the third on Schimpf’s sacrifice fly.
Alabama struck for four runs in the fourth against LSU starter Jordan Brown, who fired two wild pitches to score Crimson Tide runners from third base during the frame.
The Tide extended the lead to 6-3 in the fifth as catcher Alex Avila contributed a sacrifice fly and Bentley delivered an RBI groundout.
Mainieri said LSU’s focus is not so much on sustaining its winning streak as it is on earning significant postseason victories.
“The guys will tell you that I really don’t speak that much to them about the streak. I think the reason we’re not focused on it is because each game means so much for different reasons. That’s kept our minds off the streak. Now is not a good time to lose, so we might as well keep on winning.”
LSU 12, Alabama 8 (May 24, 2008 at Hoover, Ala.)
LSU.................... 002 101 062 - 12 15 2 (42-16-1)
Alabama............. 000 420 020 - 8 11 3 (34-26)
Pitchers: LSU - Jordan Brown; Nolan Cain(5); Anthony Ranaudo(6); Jared Bradford(8).
Alabama - Robert Phares; Will Stroup(5); Austin Graham(7); Josh Copeland(8); Nathan Kilcrease(9);
Win-Anthony Ranaudo(1-0) Loss-Austin Graham(6-2) T-3:33 A-12324
HR LSU - Blake Dean (15); Matt Clark (21).
Brown faced 2 batters in the 5th.