Tigers extend winning streak to nine games
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Seeing live action for the first time in more than a month, Jake Latz fired a 1-2-3 sixth inning to protect a one-run lead in the first relief appearance of his career.
Austin Bain followed that up a perfect frame of his own punctuated by a pair of filthy strikeouts. Russell Reynolds and Doug Norman faired much the same in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
The aforementioned quartet recorded the final 12 outs in order, while the bullpen as a whole worked six shutout innings of two-hit relief with one walk and six strikeouts to nail down LSU’s ninth straight victory.
“Hey, we’ll take it we’ll take it,” Reynolds said. “Bullpen has been pitching great lately, so I think everybody has kind of been feeling themselves a little bit, and I think the bullpen as a whole has done a great job the last stretch of the season.”
Antoine Duplantis collected three hits and made a running grab near the wall as LSU (37-16) downed Northwestern State (30-22) 7-2 at Alex Box Stadium on Tuesday night.
“We didn’t play awesome, awesome, awesome,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We left some runners on base. We did some things that weren’t great, but overall I thought it was a pretty good performance.”
For Latz, the outing represents a promising development after battling elbow trouble for almost all of his two years on campus. Facing the bottom of the Demon order, Latz got a called strike three and induced two infield popups — the first ended a lengthy 10-pitch at-bat — to end the inning.
“We weren’t going to give in,” Latz said of the battle. “We weren’t going to walk him. At 3-2, we were just going to stay with the fastball and get him out with that.”
The left-hander threw 20 pitches, 19 of which were fastballs ranging from 90-93 mph on the stadium radar gun. He left the mound feeling ‘great’ and pain free.
“Latz throwing that inning for us was very encouraging,” Mainieri said. “I’ll meet with (pitching coach Alan Dunn) and we’ll see if we think he should be activated for this weekend series, and whether he can help us or not.”
LSU jumped ahead quickly, capitalizing on some adrenaline-fueled wildness on the part of Northwestern State freshman Austin Reich. The right-hander, while throwing hard, issued three successive walks to load the bases in the first inning.
Bryce Jordan then took one for the team — hit by pitch No. 20 for him this season — to force in a run, and Greg Deichmann walked to make it 2-0. Beau Jordan followed with LSU’s first hit of the ball game, an RBI single back through the middle to cap the three-run frame.
“We had some good at-bats early in the game,” Mainieri said. “We didn’t hit much, but sometimes they walk you and sometimes you earn walks.”
LSU starter John Valek worked stranded a runner in scoring position in each of the first two innings before running into trouble in the third.
Cort Brinson’s 12-hopper up the middle rolled just out of reach of Cole Freeman’s diving attempt to bring home two runs, and while Valek froze Kelsey Richard with the tying run in scoring position, he was lifted after just three innings of work.
Mainieri went to Jesse Stallings from there, who stranded two baserunners in the fourth inning and another in the fifth. The two-out walk he issued in the fifth marked the final Demon to reach base safely.
Dormant since the first, the LSU offense finally provided an insurance run in the seventh. Antoine Duplantis led off the inning with a single, and Jake Fraley scored him from first with an RBI double down the right-field line.
Freeman tacked on another insurance run in the eighth with an RBI single over the drawn in infield to bring home Brennan Breaux, who reached on an error to begin the inning. Duplantis followed with an RBI triple off the wall in right and scored on Fraley’s shallow sacrifice fly to right one batter later.
“When one person gets a hit, everybody wants to jump on,” Duplantis said. “I thought we hit some balls hard at the beginning of the game that were caught. It was just a matter of time before they’d start finding holes.”
LSU now turns its attention to No. 1 Florida, which comes to the Box on Thursday night to begin the final series of the regular season.
“It’s time to talk about the Gators,” Mainieri added with a smile before declining to name a weekend rotation until Wednesday.