LSU walks off South Carolina in wild, strange SEC Tournament semifinal

Published 8:10 pm Saturday, May 25, 2024

HOOVER, Ala. — Steven Milam blasted a walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the 10th inning Saturday to give LSU a 12-11 victory over South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals.

Of course he did. How else was one of the wildest, strangest games in tournament history supposed to end?

Milam’s home run capped a game that included LSU’s comeback from an 8-0 deficit and a controversial “catcher’s balk” call that gave South Carolina the lead in the top of the 10th. Just before Milam’s home run, Hayden Travinski walked and was awarded the fourth ball on a pitch clock violation.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“What a game. I think there’s a lot of stories in this game, but it’s about toughness,” said LSU coach Jay Johnson, who was ejected for arguing the catcher’s balk call. “The toughness that this team has displayed since the middle of the season is special.”

South Carolina (36-23) built an 8-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning. Dalton Reeves hit a three-run home run, and Parker Noland had a two-run single during the hot start.

LSU (40-20), however, scored six runs in the bottom of the fourth to get back in it and eventually tied it 10-10 in the bottom of the ninth when Paxton Kling scored on a throwing error.

Then things got really crazy.

In the 10th inning, South Carolina’s Blake Jackson drew a two-out walk and got to third base on a pair of wild pitches. He tried to steal home but was thrown out by 30 feet.

Umpires, however, ruled that LSU catcher Brady Neal stepped on or in front of home plate before he got the ball from pitcher Griffin Herring. By rule it was called a catcher’s balk, the play was blown dead, and Jackson was awarded the go-ahead run that made it 11-10.

The play is considered a judgment call and is not subject to replay review.

“It’s not something we see something very common, but the rule is specific,” said Paul Gullie, the SEC’s coordinator of umpires. “(The rule) says if, on an attempted squeeze play or a steal of home plate, the catcher steps on or in front of home plate without possession of the ball, or touches the batter or the bat, the pitcher shall be charged with a balk and the catcher with interference. Hence the reason the balk call scores the runner and the batter is awarded first base.”

Johnson immediately argued the call and was ejected. The ejection includes a suspension for Sunday’s championship game. The Tigers also lodged a protest with the SEC that was made irrelevant moments later.

Travinski led off the bottom of the 10th inning with a walk thanks to the pitch clock violation. Milam then belted a fastball over the wall in left center field to bring an exciting end to a game for the ages.

Milam finished 3-for-6 with the home run, a double, two RBIs and two runs scored. He is batting .500 (9-for-18) with six RBIs in the tournament.

Milam said he thought he initially got a bunt sign before swinging away.

“I got something down that I could handle and I stayed calm and put a good swing on it,” Milam said.

Almost lost in the drama of the semifinals was that it continued an unlikely run to the championship game for LSU. The Tigers, seeded 11th out of 12 teams in the tournament, won their seventh game in a row. They’ve scored 43 runs in four games in Hoover.

Up next is top-seeded Tennessee, which beat Vanderbilt 6-4 in Saturday’s other semifinal game. The Tigers and Volunteers will play Sunday at 2 p.m. on ESPN2.

“We were in a tough spot, and now we’re one of the best teams in the country,” Johnson said. “It’s our 40th win of the season, four obviously here. I don’t know how many in a row. That happens when you have tough-minded people that deliver great individual performances.”