The ball seemed to hang in the air forever.
But it kept going and going. When it finally landed in the left field bleachers in Alex Box Stadium, LSU had a 6-4 eighth inning lead over UMass Lowell lead off Gavin Dugas’ second home run Sunday.
LSU entered the bottom half of the eighth trailing 4-3, but back to back leadoff walks to third baseman Zack Mathis and right fielder Daniel Cabrera put the go-ahead run on base with no outs. Two straight groundouts from first baseman Cade Beloso and left fielder Mitchell Sanford tied the game, bringing up the designated hitting Dugas.
He got an 0-1 cutter up high and hit it hard, putting it up into the wind blowing directly to left field. UMass Lowell left fielder Vinnie Martin kept tracking back and back until there was nothing but wall. The ball landed halfway up the bleachers, putting the Tigers (11-5) out in front for good.
“Luckily the wind was blowing a good bit today,” Dugas said. “It kind of did what it did and I’m thankful for that.”
While the ball was hard hit, coming off the bat at over 100 miles per hour, Dugas wasn’t sure if it would carry out or not. His primary thought was to get as far along the bases as possible, making sure he touched the bag at each stop along the way.
“I was focused on trying to get to third as quick as possible,” Dugas said. “I didn’t know if it was going to hit the wall or if he was going to catch it. I was just trying to run my heart out until I got to third base.”
His two-home run day comes exactly two weeks after he was hit in the head with a pitch against Eastern Kentucky. Dugas missed most of the following week with concussion symptoms and wasn’t cleared until last Saturday.
“I’m not going to lie, it was a little bit of a struggle, wanting to get back in and waiting patiently for it,” Dugas said. “Everybody wants to play, and everybody wants to compete for their team. Just sitting on that bench every day drove me to want to continue and compete for my team. It gave me that drive a little bit more.”
In his return to the starting lineup, Dugas went 2 for 4 with two home runs for four RBI.
“I’m just so happy for Gavin Dugas,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “This has been a rough start to the season for him. He’s such a wonderful young man. Nobody tries harder and nobody works harder. To see a kid like that get rewarded with some success, it warms your heart.”
UMass Lowell (4-9) reached the scoreboard first on a solo home run to left from first baseman Joey Castellanos in the second inning.
Dugas responded with his first home run of the day with a two-run long fly to left that scored Mitchell Sanford. Center fielder Giovanni DiGiacomo followed with a triple down the first baseline and came around to score on a groundout from catcher Alex Milazzo to put the Tigers in front 3-1.
UML’s designated hitter Ciaran Devenney added another run in the fourth with a solo shot, also to left, to bring the River Hawks within a run.
Then in the fifth inning, LSU starter AJ Labas hit a wall. He allowed four straight two-out hits to score two runs and put LSU behind 4-3.
“I was just leaving the ball up,” Labas said. “I was leaving the ball up and not being able to command my fastball on both sides of the plate. Also, I didn’t have any off-speed pitches today, so that’s pretty much what led to that inning. They were laying off my change-up and slider and just sitting dead red fastball.”
At that point, Labas had allowed eight hits in five innings of work and allowed four runs, all earned. It would have made complete sense for Mainieri to give Labas the hook, but he showed some confidence in the redshirt sophomore and allowed him to go out to pitch the sixth inning against the bottom of the lineup.
“I decided to leave him in for the sixth inning because I knew we were going into the bottom of the order,” Mainieri said. “I knew he’d throw strikes.”
Labas retired the side in order, picking up his third strikeout and ending his day on a positive note.
“That meant a lot to me,” Labas said. “The way I’ve been throwing today, there were runners on base in every inning except the first. So, going out there and getting that part of the lineup out was a very big deal for me.”
Jacob Hasty and Aaron George pitched the seventh before Devin Fontenot closed out the game with two hitless innings. After Dugas put the Tigers up 6-4 heading into the top of the ninth, Fontenot struck out the side to end the game.
“At the end of the day, we found a way,” Mainieri said. “When the year is over and we look back at the record, nobody is going to remember that we scored in two innings out of eight or how many times we struck out today.”
LSU hosts South Alabama Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. before opening SEC play on the road against Ole Miss on Friday night. The game against the Jaguars will be broadcast online on SEC Network+.
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