Tigers force rubber match Sunday
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Ball State had Alex Lange wobbling on the ropes early in LSU’s 9-3 win Saturday night.
Already trailing 2-1 and battling his command, a sacrifice bunt advances two runners into scoring position with only one out.
But the All-American ace bore down from there, inducing a shallow fly to right and a swinging strikeout on a wicked breaking ball to get him team back in the dugout with momentum intact.
“That really inspired our team, to be honest with you,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He gives up a base hit there, we go down by three runs. Instead he gets the out and our team comes right back in the bottom of the inning.”
LSU, after breaking a 0-for-13 skid with runners in scoring position with an Antoine Duplantis RBI double the inning prior, exploded for eight runs on six hits to take a commanding lead.
The Tigers (11-3) kept the Cardinals (8-8) at arm’s length from that point on to set up a rubber match at Alex Box Stadium on Sunday.
“We had some really big hits in that inning,” Mainieri said. “It was nice to see that. We really needed to re-establish ourselves with the bat, and I think they did that tonight.”
Greg Deichmann (1-for-4), Kramer Robertson (3-for-3, 2 BB) and Jake Fraley (2-for-5) each delivered two-run knocks in a 36-minute frame that saw 13 Tigers come to the plate. Cole Freeman and Beau Jordan brought home the other two runs on a single and sacrifice fly, respectively.
It was the sixth time in 14 games LSU sent at least nine men to the plate in one inning. The Tigers finished 5-for-14 with runners in scoring position one night after going a dismal 0-for-7 in a lopsided defeat.
“We just didn’t get that big hit last night,” Robertson said. “Tonight we got those big hits and it really paid off for us. One guy after another came up there and won their at-bat, and that’s what you have to do if you’re going to win these games.”
Lange (2-0) wasn’t at his best by any means, but he was able to limit the damage to three earned runs on five hits over six innings of work and earned his first victory since opening weekend.
Continuing a trend from his last outing, Lange sailed through two innings before running into trouble in the third. A leadoff single and a walk — one of four on the night — scored on a two-run triple by second baseman Ryan Spaulding. The lead could have grown to 3-0 were it not for a failed suicide squeeze.
“I thought Alex Lange was really outstanding tonight,” Mainieri said. “He showed why he’s such a big winner and why you never had to worry about him.”
Having allowed another run on a two-out single, Lange found himself in a bases loaded jam in fifth. Again he went to his trusty breaking ball, getting shortstop Sean Kennedy to wave haplessly at a ball in the dirt for his fifth and final strikeout of the evening.
It was all set up by using the curveball to get strike one.
“I don’t know if it was necessarily a focus or something we did this week,” Lange said. “It just kind of was what the situation dictated. I had a good feel for the breaking ball today. They were laying off of it, kind of like last week, where they were spitting on the breaking ball, so I had to focus on throwing it for a strike. And when you can throw it for a strike, they have to respect it late in the count.”
LSU relievers Jesse Stallings, Hunter Newman and Alden Cartwright — all part of “the bridge” of relievers charged with delivering leads to closer Caleb Gilbert that Mainieri said he wanted to see more from — fired one scoreless frame apiece to round out a seven-hitter.
First pitch for Sunday’s series finale is set for noon with a 3:30 p.m. travel curfew in effect. LSU will send John Valek (3-0, 2.04 ERA) to the bump in hopes of securing a fourth consecutive series victory to start the season.
– O’Neal Lochridge didn’t play after feeling stiffness in his back during pregame warm-ups. Mainieri said his status was uncertain for Sunday, though he added the freshman could have played had he chose to “force the issue.” Chris Reid started at third base in his place, going 0-for-3 with a walk at the plate and playing error-free defense in the field.
– Antoine Duplantis extended his hitting streak to 14 games to begin his career. Jake Fraley extended his streak to nine games.