By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Cole McKay uncorked 16 balls over his final 17 pitches to walk the bases loaded and force in a run, which both spotted Tulane an early 1-0 lead and prematurely brought his own evening to an abrupt close.
Things only got worse from there. The deficit swelled to five after a calamitous second inning that saw the Wave score four times on four hits and a pair of unsightly errors.
Those mistakes dug a hole far too deep for the struggling Tiger offense to swing its way out of. Wave starter J.P. France dealt six-plus masterful innings as Tulane (18-7) handled mistake-prone LSU (16-8), 7-1, to post its first victory in Baton Rouge since the opening of the new Alex Box Stadium.
“Those first two-three innings were as bad a baseball as we’ve played as far as I can remember,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Between the pitching and the defense on the left side, I hadn’t seen anything like that in a long, long time.”
The 0.2-inning outing represented a major step backward for McKay, who had fanned five in two impressive innings against Louisiana-Lafayette in his prior midweek start. The big Texan rookie lost the strike zone entirely after recording a pair of quick, hard-hit outs to begin the first inning.
“I’ve seen him do that before,” Mainieri said. “That’s why it’s been hard for us to make a strong commitment to him. Last week gave us a lot of hope … The reality is a young guy has to be able to regroup.”
LSU’s best chance to get back into the game came in the fourth inning. Singles by Antoine Duplantis, Jordan Romero and Greg Deichmann loaded the bases with one out for Bryce Adams, who Mainieri inserted into the lineup at first base in an attempt to infuse some pop.
The slugger grounded the first pitch of the at-back back through the box, but Tulane shortstop Stephen Alemais ranged behind the bag, dove and got off a behind-the-back flip to begin an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play that zapped all of the momentum from the building.
“Great play by their shortstop,” Kramer Robertson said. “If that ball is a couple feet to the left or a couple feet to the right, it’s a different ball game, but this game was lost in the first two innings by the way we set the tone. And as the leader of this team, I have to be better. You can put this game on me because I set the tone at the beginning of the game.”
Relievers Parker Bugg and Jesse Stallings kept the Green Wave at bay with two scoreless frames apiece — the lone baserunner against either came on a Deichmann error, LSU’s third of the night — but the damage has already been done.
Robertson lined shot directly into the glove of third baseman Hunter Hope. Retired before he could so much as leave the batter’s box, the Tiger shortstop could do nothing but twirl his bat and gaze up exasperatedly at the clear night sky.
Duplantis, who reached base safely in all four trips to the plate, drew a one-out walk in the sixth only to be erased on a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play after France froze Beau Jordan on a 3-2 offering.
Adams ended the seventh inning with a 5-4-3 double play, his second inning-ending twin killing in as many at-bats. LSU finished the night with just seven hits — all singles — only three of which came after that ill-fated rally in the fourth inning.
“Put a couple of new guys in the lineup hoping they’d spark us, but it didn’t really work,” Mainieri said. “So back to the drawing board and figure something else out.”
Deichmann summarized the struggles: “The name of the game is execute for us right now. Again we didn’t do it tonight. We couldn’t string hits together. We couldn’t put much together at all.”
Tulane tacked on one more run in the eighth on a towering solo shot to left off the bat of second baseman Jake Willsey. He belted a first-pitch fastball from Alden Cartwright clear over the bleachers in left field. Grant Witherspoon capped the scoring with an RBI single off Caleb Gilbert in the ninth.
LSU finally broke up the shut out in the ninth inning. Duplantis and Jordan picked up back-to-back one-out singles, and Deichmann delivered an RBI single to right-center on a 3-2 count with two outs. Chris Reid struck out next to end the game.
“Just one of those nights where everything went as poorly as it could go,” Mainieri said. “I thought we were ready, but obviously we weren’t ready to play tonight.”
LSU now heads to the Plains to take on SEC-West rival Auburn having lost three of its last four games while managing to plate just five runs over that span.