By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Greg Deichmann made sure to not take an 11-day homer-less drought on the road with him.
“That’s way too long,” Deichmann smiled.
Deichmann belted a three-run home run, his eighth of the season and first since March 11, and Josh Smith went 4-for-4 with a career-high four RBI as LSU handled Southeastern Louisiana 8-2 at Alex Box Stadium on Wednesday night to cap a nine-game home stand at 8-1 before hitting the road for a Southeastern Conference showdown with Florida this weekend.
Freshman right-hander Zack Hess fired four innings out one-run ball to earn the victory. The occasionally-maligned LSU bullpen took it from there, shaking off some past midweek struggles to silence a formidable in-state foe.
Five relievers combined to work five innings of one-run ball. The lone blemish came on a solo home run in the top of the ninth with the result no longer in doubt.
“That was a good win against a quality opponent,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “It was a good, solid win for us and good momentum gained for going down to Gainesville tomorrow.”
Timely defense helped Hess navigate through some control problems in the early going.
Mike Papierski gunned down a would-be base stealer after a single in the second. Zach Watson raced down a deep drive to center field in the third inning. Antoine Duplantis made a running catch and fired back in to begin a 7-6-3 double play to end that frame.
LSU (17-5) took the lead in the second. Watson drew a one-out walk and stole his third base of the season. Two batters later, Josh Smith smoked a two-out double over the center fielder’s head to bring home the game’s first run.
The Tigers extended their lead one inning later thanks to more two-out thunder. Papierski drew a leadoff walk, and after two fly outs, Duplantis chased him to third base with a single to right. That set the stage for Deichmann, who effortlessly flicked a 3-2 offering into the left field bleachers.
Southeastern (14-6) responded with a blast from their own slugger, Taylor Schwaner, who belted a Hess offering over the left field bleachers entirely for his sixth home run of the season. Hess did strike out the side — all swinging — around the solo home run in the fourth.
Hess was hooked for pitch count reasons after throwing 56 pitches. Mainieri said the goal was to keep him under 60 in order to come back and pitch in relief against the Gators this weekend. The rookie said he’s getting the feel for his multi-faceted role.
“You kind of get the best of both worlds,” Hess said. “You still get to start and you get to come in on the weekends during SEC play, so I definitely can’t complain. Just trying to fill the role the team needs me in right now and doing my best to help us win.”
Russell Reynolds relieved Hess to begin the fifth, and a bizarre incident followed. After two quick outs, Southeastern coach Matt Riser asked the umpires to inspect Reynolds’ hat, presumably for a foreign substance.
The umpires found nothing as tempers flared on both sides. LSU coach Paul Mainieri pulled Reynolds for the game after he walked the batter. Matt Beck came on, and Papierski registered his second caught stealing of the evening to end the inning.
“Matt asked the umpire to check if Russell was applying something foreign to the ball,” Mainieri explained. “Russell wouldn’t know what to do with the ball if there was something foreign on it. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen a college coach ask an umpire to check, and Russell felt a little discredited because he’d gotten the first two hitters out. The thing is you’ve just got to forget about it and play the game, and I felt like Russell let it get to him a little bit, so it was time to come out of the game.”
Beck work the first 1-2-3 inning of the evening by an LSU pitcher in the sixth. He returned to strike out Schwaner to begin the seventh before being lifted for fellow freshman Todd Peterson, who allowed a two-out double but got out of the inning.
LSU broke the game open in the seventh inning. Kramer Robertson walked and Cole Freeman singled to spark the rally. After a fielder’s choice, Southeastern opted to intentionally walk Deichmann to load the bases. Watson lifted a sacrifice fly to left field to extend LSU’s lead to 5-1.
A hit by pitch reloaded the bases for Smith. He skied a ball that found grass in shallow right center field and cleared the bases for a three-run double. Seven of LSU’s eight runs came home with two outs.