By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
LSU’s bats got off to a sluggish start on Mardi Gras night, but they’d wake up in time to run the Tigers’ winning streak to five.
Greg Deichmann’s RBI single through the left side broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning and four relievers worked a combined 4.1 innings of scoreless relief to secure a 3-2 LSU (8-1) victory over Nicholls State (4-4) at Alex Box Stadium on Tuesday night.
“I thought it was just a good, solid game,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, “and like I told our team after the game, your season will be defined by how you do in one-run games. You don’t beat everybody by 10 runs. You’ve got to win the close ones, and you’ve got to do it with clutch relief pitching and defense and do the things it takes offensively. I thought our team showed a lot of poise tonight.”
The Tigers scored in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings to avoid a second midweek loss in as many weeks, and once again, the bullpen was the difference.
The trio of Hunter Kiel, Todd Peterson and Caleb Gilbert set up closed Newman with 3.1 innings of near-perfect relief. The only baserunner against any of the three came via an error. Newman then came on and worked around a one-out single to nail down his first save of the season.
The victory comes one day after LSU lost veteran reliever Doug Norman for remainder of the season to Tommy John Surgery. Mainieri said he’s presently got confidence in the four relievers he used Tuesday and Austin Bain, who warmed up but didn’t come in, but as good as they were, he’s still looking for more bullpen arms to step up.
“We’re going to need more than that,” Mainieri said. “But for one day and one big game, having all those guys available, we ran some pretty good arms out there in those late innings. For me personally, it was comforting to see, but I had confidence they would do it.”
Freshman Zack Hess and Nicholls left-hander Mike Hanchar matched zeroes through the first four innings, each working out of jams in the second inning before cruising through the next four frames.
Hess ran into trouble in the fifth. He hit a batter to lead off the inning and a hit-and-run single put runners on the corners with nobody out. Troy Cahill laid down a squeeze bunt to bring home the game’s first run and a two-out RBI single to center from Chet Niehaus chased Hess from the game.
Kiel replaced Hess, and catcher Nick Coomes caught Niehaus attempting to steal to end the inning. Kiel then struck out the side in the sixth, touching 95 mph with his fastball. He’s worked two perfect innings with four strikeouts since a rocky debut at UNO last Tuesday.
LSU loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning to chase Hanchar. Beau Jordan hustled out a double to leadoff the inning. Kramer Robertson got LSU on the board with a sacrifice fly to deep left field, but Deichmann grounded to second to end the threat with Nicholls holding on to a 2-1 lead.
LSU pulled even one inning later with a two-out rally. Coomes singled, and Jordan followed with his third hit of the evening. All three of which went to the opposite field.
“That’s been my approach all season,” Jordan said. “I just needed to sit back a little more and let the ball travel a little more. I did that tonight and it worked out.”
Antoine Duplantis came off the bench and knotted the game at 2-2 with a pinch hit single to left-center field. Mainieri wanted to take a look at Jordan in left and Zach Watson, another right-handed bat, in the outfield against a lefty, but with the game on the line, Duplantis delivered.
“That was a little different,” Duplantis said, “but the whole time I was just thinking I’d get my chance. Especially when the game stayed close. I just tried to stay mentally prepared, and the situation kind of amped by adrenaline up.”
Peterson came on and worked around a Robertson throwing error to post a scoreless seventh and earn the victory in relief. He needed just seven pitches to get through the frame. The Tigers would take the lead in the home half of the inning after singles by Freeman and Robertson set up Deichmann for the game-winning knock.
These kind of close games have been a rarity for LSU so far thus season. All seven of the Tigers’ previous wins came by four runs or more, with the only three-run margin of the young season being an 11-8 loss to UNO.
“It was definitely a little more tense,” Duplantis said. “But it was more fun.”
Perhaps it’ll be a good warm-up for what’s to come. LSU heads to Minute Maid Park Thursday ahead of the Shriners Hospitals For Children College Classic, which’ll get underway with a top-five showdown on Friday night between LSU and TCU.