HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — The LSU Tigers won yet another Southeastern Conference Tournament title, this time with a superb outing by freshman pitcher Eric Walker and a ninth-inning decision that wasn't exactly by the book.
Walker allowed one run in 7 2/3 innings and the Tigers survived a ninth-inning scare to beat Arkansas 4-2 on Sunday in the championship game, with the stands mostly full of fans in LSU purple and gold.
The Tigers (43-17) cruised into the game before claiming their 12th SEC tournament title and sixth under coach Paul Mainieri, whose call for an intentional walk in the ninth worked. They outscored their four opponents by 35-5 and head into NCAA regionals on an 11-game winning streak.
The Razorbacks (42-17) fell to 0-4 in SEC championship games.
Walker (7-1) struck out eight and allowed five hits and one walk for the Tigers before leaving with no one on in the eighth. His performance helped ensure it didn't matter that LSU's bats finally settled down after scoring in double digits the first three games at Hoover Met.
"You throw a freshman out there on the biggest stage that we've played on all year, and it looked like it was just another game," LSU second baseman Cole Freeman said.
The Razorbacks threatened in the ninth off closer Hunter Newman, scoring one run before leaving the bases loaded. He earned his 10th save.
Arkansas managed a walk and a hit batter, then got Eric Cole's RBI single up the middle. Newman intentionally walked Chad Spanberger — who had five homers in the tournament — to load the bases with two outs for Luke Bonfield, who hit a grounder to shortstop to end the game.
Mainieri made the decision to put the tying run on second base because Spanberger "is in scoring position standing at home plate."
"It's the first time I've done it in 35 years," he said.
Spanberger was named tournament MVP, and also said he was surprised by the move.
"It was a pretty bold strategy, I'd say, because Luke is just as good a hitter as I am," he said. "He's hit like three walkoffs (hits) this year already."
Arkansas starter Kevin Kopps (3-1) allowed three runs, one earned, in three innings.
The Tigers scored three runs in the fourth after loading the bases with no outs.
They added another run in the sixth on Nick Coomes' sacrifice fly to score Antoine Duplantis. The run stood after a replay appeared to show that Duplantis' hand touched the plate an instant before he was tagged by catcher Grant Koch.
Tempers flared earlier after Dominic Fletcher's slide into second. Arkansas players and Mainieri came out of the dugouts before things calmed down.
Freeman said after the game it was "a clean play." Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn didn't think Freeman touched the bag in the first place after the throw pulled him off.
"We feel like he wasn't even on the base, so we should have had runners on first and second and nobody out," Van Horn said. "That was what caused the problem. He slid straight into the bag. The second baseman went into him.
"There was no cheap shot there, no intent. He was just trying to get into the base, which he has every right to do."
Duplantis doubled, singled and scored twice for LSU. Coomes drove in a pair of runs on the sac fly and a bases-loaded walk.
Cole drove in two runs and Fletcher had a pair of hits for Arkansas.
Posted on Mon, May 29, 2017
by By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer