By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
NEW ORLEANS – Three key cogs in the LSU bullpen imploded in the Crescent City on Tuesday night.
Handed a five-run lead to begin the fifth inning, a trio of LSU relievers collectively allowed 10 runs while recording just four outs between them to turn a 6-1 lead into a 11-6 deficit in the span of two innings.
UNO (4-0) battered relievers Hunter Kiel, Collin Strall and Russell Reynolds for nine hits — seven of which went for extra bases— and scored 10 unanswered runs to stun LSU (3-1), 11-8, at a jam-packed Ron Maestri Field.
“The guys we brought in are going to be guys we’re going to need to count on,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, “and some of them had a rough time tonight. And I’ll tell you this, they didn’t miss many pitches. They were an aggressive, good-hitting team, and when we made mistakes, they jumped on them.”
Kiel allowed a triple to Samuel Capielano, UNO’s No. 9 hitter, but induced a run-scoring ground ball and recorded a strikeout of the following two batters. It should also be noted the triple was made possible by one of several ill-advised diving attempts by LSU’s outfielders.
That’s when the wheels completely fell off.
The hard-throwing right hander allowed back-to-back doubles and issued a walk before Mainieri pulled him in favor of Strall. The sidewinder promptly allowed a run-scoring double, a walk, a two-run double and a go-ahead single. Strall left without recording an out.
Reynolds entered and escaped further damage but ran into his own problems in the sixth. UNO scored four times in the frame, all of which were charged to Reynolds.
“Credit them,” said shortstop Kramer Robertson, who hit a solo home run in the fifth inning. “It seemed like everything they hit, whether they hit it hard or soft, was falling. They just kept hitting and kept scoring.”
Up to that point, LSU had appeared bound for a fourth consecutive stress-free victory.
Bryce Adams and Brennan Breaux, the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters in the LSU lineup, opened up the scoring in the second inning with back-to-back solo home runs to right. The duo doubled their cumulative home run total from a season ago in the span of four pitches. Adams (sacrifice fly) and Breaux (RBI single) drove in another run apiece in the fourth inning.
Greg Deichmann extended the LSU lead to 3-0 in the third with a hard-hit sacrifice fly to left field, but UNO left fielder Dakota Dean, a former Tiger and the brother of UNO coach Blake Dean, singled home a run in the bottom half of the frame to put UNO on the board.
That’d be all the Privateers could muster against LSU starter Caleb Gilbert. The right-hander allowed one run on four hits with five strikeouts over four innings of work and turned over a 6-1 lead to the bullpen.
“He kind of reached the max,” Mainieri said. “He was close to 60 pitches, and that was the end for him.”
LSU found itself trailing by the next time it came up to bat. And the Tigers could do nothing with UNO reliever William Griffin, who shook off the Robertson blast to fire four innings of two-run (one earned) relief and earn the victory.
The Tigers threatened in the seventh inning, loading the bases against Griffin, but Josh Smith flew out to deep center field to extinguish the threat. Adams doubled and scored on an error in the eighth.
LSU mounted one final rally in the ninth, scoring a run on an RBI single from Jake Slaughter to plate Robertson, who doubled. The Tigers put the tying run at the plate, but Nick Coomes hit into a 5-4-3 double play to end the game.
“We played our hearts out tonight,” Mainieri said. “We tried really hard, but unfortunately there were two inning there where we couldn’t get them out. We couldn’t stop them, and they put big crooked numbers up. We had a lot of one- and two-run innings, but we couldn’t get the kind of huge inning they got against us.”
LSU won’t have any time to dwell on the season’s first setbacks. The Tigers will be back in action at home Wednesday night against Hofstra. True freshman Zack Hess will make his first career start.