By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Eric Walker picked right up where his veteran rotation-mates left off — he just had to work a bit harder along the way.
The freshman right-hander backed up his gem in Houston with six gutsy innings of shutout ball and Antoine Duplantis drove in four runs as LSU blew out Wichita State 9-2 to secure the sweep on a blustery Sunday afternoon at Alex Box Stadium.
“It was a good way to end the weekend,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I thought we played real well the entire weekend. I thought our team played with a lot of intensity and we did pretty much everything we wanted to do this weekend, including getting three wins against a good, solid ball club.”
Walker grinded his way through some early trouble and didn’t record a clean inning until his sixth and final frame. He effectively scattered three hits, two walks and a hit batsman, holding the Shockers hitless in eight at-bats with runners on base, including 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.
The performance rounds out a weekend of dominant starting pitching. LSU’s three starters each earned a victory and fired a 21 scoreless innings while recording more strikeouts (15) than they allowed hits and walks combined (11).
It took Walker a bit to warm up. He issued consecutive two-out walks in the first inning — the freshman had walked only three batters over his first three starts — but induced a chopper to third base and escaped the inning unscathed.
That’d become a theme. Meanwhile, the Tigers sent nine men to the plate in the bottom of the first and jumped out to a 3-0 lead thanks in part to some aggressiveness on the base paths.
Kramer Robertson led off his a single and moved to third base on a hit-and-run single by Cole Freeman. Freeman then stole second base and both scored on Duplantis’ two-run single into right field.
“Our first three hitters are interchangeable,” Robertson said. “We’re all speed guys who can steal bases and get on base at a high rate.”
That reshuffled top third of the order finished the weekend with 19 hits between them. Chris Reid, making his first start of the season, drove in the other run with a bases-loaded infield single that deflected off the pitcher.
Walker worked into and out of trouble again in the second inning. An infield single and a hit batsman created another jam, but Walker induced a slow roller down the first base line and a lazy fly ball to right to strand a pair of runners in scoring position. He worked around a one-out double in the third.
“Little bit of vintage (Jared) Poche’ today,” Mainieri smiled. “The old Poche’. Now Poche’ just dominates. He doesn’t even let baserunners on. But in the old days he used to let baserunners on all the time and work out of jams. During the game I was actually thinking about how much he reminded me of Jared Poche’ from the right side.”
Another well executed hit-and-run allowed the Tigers to extend their lead in the third. Josh Smith singled with one out and scored on Jake Slaughter’s double down the left field line. Slaughter himself came home on a throwing error by Wichita State shortstop Trey Vickers to make it 5-0.
The top of the order went back to work in the fourth. Robertson got drilled in the back with a 0-2 fastball and Freeman followed with a double to left field. Duplantis then lined the first pitch he saw into right-center field for his second two-run single of the afternoon.
Robertson scored his third run in the afternoon on a throwing error after doubling in the fifth. He finished the weekend batting leadoff at 6-for-12 with seven runs scored in eight times reaching base safely.
“That shows how well the guys hit behind me,” Robertson said. “That’s always good. If I can get on base and score runs for us, that’s ideal. That’s the plan.”
LSU’s bullpen again had some trouble throwing strikes late in a lopsided game. Austin Bain relieved Walker and issued back-to-back walks to begin the seventh inning, both of which came around to score on a Greyson Jenista single off Caleb Gilbert with two outs.
The Tigers (12-4) will host Louisiana College on Tuesday night and UNO on Wednesday night before welcoming in Georgia for the start of Southeastern Conference play.