By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
OMAHA, Neb. — Playing on the grandest of stages has a strange habit of producing some unlikely heroes.
Add Jake Slaughter to that list.
Inserted in the nine hole of a lineup looking to break out of an Omaha mini funk, the freshman crushed a three-run home run to left field to cap LSU’s five-run second inning.
It stood up as the big blow as the Tigers staved off Florida State and elimination, 7-4, at TD Ameritrade Park Wednesday night.
“I just showed up to warmups and saw my name in the lineup,” Slaughter said. “Yeah, it was really exciting because I love to go out there and compete. I was ready to help my team win.”
That blast was just Slaughter’s third of the season and first since March 15 against UNO. He started four games earlier this postseason after Nick Coomes sprained his left thumb, but the veteran started LSU’s first two games here in Omaha.
Slaughter appeared in LSU’s first matchup with Florida State Saturday, but it didn’t go well. He missed the sign on a hit-and-run, leading to an inning-ending double play.
It could’ve been his last bit of College World Series action on this trip, but with the Seminoles starting a hard thrower in right-hander Cole Sands, Paul Mainieri just had a feeling about the matchup.
“I guess you could call it a gut feeling,” the coach said. “I liked the matchup of Jake against their starting pitcher better than I like Coomes against their starting pitcher today.”
He elaborated: “And Jake’s been having some really good batting practice sessions. Yesterday our three-man ballgame he was awesome. He was hitting a lot of balls really hard and looked like he was confident. Just went with a hunch.”
Slaughter did work in the field, too.
The first baseman managed to keep his foot on the bag for an incredible stretch to seal an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play in the third. One inning later he made a backhanded snare on a line drive ticketed for right field.
It was a play shy of a perfect night for Slaughter, as Mainieri reminded the freshman coming off the field.
Cole Freeman made a diving play up the middle in the sixth but threw low. It bounded by Slaughter, who couldn’t make the pick to save Freeman an error, and that runner came around to score.
“I said, if you would have come up with that pick, you would have played the perfect game tonight at first base defensively, and plus hit a three-run homer,” Mainieri said. “He said ‘Yeah, I know. I should have had it.’ Shows that his standards for himself have been raised.”
Slaughter is a big piece of LSU’s future. He’ll likely be the Tigers’ starting second of third baseman once the senior double play tandem moves on at the conclusion of this tournament.
But, at least for one night, he was a big part of the present, too.