Time Out: Pontiff, Barker tough in clutch By CARL DUBOIS [email protected] Advocate sportswriter HOOVER, Ala. -- Wally Pontiff is LSU's best at drawing a base on balls. Sean Barker leads the Tigers in driving in runs. The two combined Wednesday to give LSU its only two runs in a 2-1 victory over Auburn in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. LSU's Lane Mestepey and Auburn's Colby Paxton locked up in a pitchers duel that from start to finish was the most gripping of the four first-round games. At one hour and 47 minutes, it was the fastest game of the season for both teams. And, fueled with the intensity of a postseason matchup, it was a far cry from the last time Mestepey faced Auburn and the last time Paxton faced LSU. In LSU's 9-4 victory April 5 at Auburn, the Tigers jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first three innings. Mestepey gave up four Auburn runs, two earned, on 10 hits, and reliever Jake Tompkins closed out the win. In Auburn's 11-3 win over LSU the next day, Paxton gave up a first-inning solo home run to Aaron Hill, then shut out the Tigers in the next five innings. As did Mestepey the day before, Paxton yielded to a reliever in the seventh inning, but by then the game was in hand. Mestepey and Paxton made it clear from the start Wednesday afternoon this would be a much different type of game. Both pitchers were efficient, getting ahead of hitters and retiring the first batter in almost every inning. Pontiff was the first LSU leadoff man to reach base -- and one of only two in the game -- when he walked on a 3-2 pitch to open the bottom of the fourth inning. The walk was Pontiff's team-high 43rd of the season. "I've been struggling a little bit as of late," Pontiff said, "I decided there are two ways you can change that. You can either be really aggressive, or you can be patient and get good pitches to hit." Paxton, Pontiff said, was spotting his pitches well. That convinced Pontiff to be patient and wait for a good pitch to hit. The strategy paid off in Pontiff's first at-bat. He lined a two-out single down the left-field line in the first inning for the first of LSU's three hits in the game. Paxton, who went on to strike out nine, struck out Barker for his third strikeout of the inning, leaving Pontiff stranded at first base. In Pontiff's next at-bat, the first three pitches he saw from Paxton were balls. "He kept nibbling at the corners," said Pontiff, who watched as the next two pitches crossed the strike zone for a full count. Paxton's 3-2 pitch was a fastball low and outside. Pontiff was now on first base. Paxton knew he'd committed one of pitching's cardinal sins -- walking the leadoff batter. "Usually that comes back to haunt you," Paxton said, "and it did then." Pontiff, LSU's position player with the most baseball savvy and postseason credentials, had a feeling his patience in that at-bat would be rewarded. "That's how big innings get started, when guys draw walks and the next guy hits a home run," said Pontiff, who was the Most Valuable Player of the 2000 SEC Tournament. "That's the way it goes. That's how baseball's played." After Pontiff walked, Barker came to the plate. By this time, nearly halfway through the game, he knew there wouldn't be a lot of offense on this day, not the way Paxton and Mestepey were pitching. Lately, there hasn't been much offense supporting Mestepey. In his last five starts, LSU has scored 14 runs. That includes a 2-1 loss May 4 at Tennessee, a game that was similar to Wednesday's game in ways other than just the score. In that game, Tennessee's winning run advanced to second base on a faux pas by Barker. His throw from right field after a Vols single sailed high over the cutoff man, allowing the batter to take second base as Barker's off-target throw to third failed to get the lead runner out. This time Barker was on the winning side of a 2-1 game. After Pontiff walked to lead off the fourth inning, the game was still scoreless when Barker came to bat. Barker left Pontiff stranded in the first inning. He didn't want to leave Pontiff on first base again. "I always feel like it's my responsibility to drive in runs," Barker said, "especially batting in the (cleanup) spot." After Paxton threw strikes to Barker with his first two pitches, Barker made him pay for an 0-2 mistake. "In my first at-bat, he brought the high heat in on me and struck me out," Barker said. "I knew I was going to see another fastball later on in the game. After the two sliders I was looking for the fastball, and I just wanted to keep my swing short and make contact." The home run was LSU's third -- and last -- hit of the game. But it was enough.