Zach Watson ripped the second pitch he saw into the left-field corner for a double measured at 107 mph off the bat to help LSU get on the board in the first inning. He effortlessly chased down a laser ticketed for the gap in right-center field one inning later.
So yeah, the sophomore center fielder didn’t show any signs of rust in his return to the lineup after missing nine games due to an oblique injury.
“It felt amazing to get that first one out of the way after being out for two weeks and not seeing pitching,” Watson said.
Watson finished 3-for-5 with two runs scored and stole three bases in his return. Right-hander Cam Sanders stole the show from that point on, allowing two runs and striking out eight over 5.1 innings of two-hit ball as LSU defeated Southern 8-2 on a chilly Tuesday night at Alex Box Stadium.
LSU (9-4) extended its modest winning streak to four in a row with its 35th consecutive victory against a SWAC program. Southern was the last SWAC school to defeat LSU, winning 9-5 at the old Alex Box in 2005.
Sanders was in total control after beginning his LSU career with two rocky starts, and the electric stuff that LSU coach Paul Mainieri raved about before the season simply overwhelmed the cross-town foe. Sanders struck out the side on 10 pitches in the fourth, part of an overall stretch of 11 in a row retired.
“I just kind of cleared everything out of my mind, focused up and I was finally able to execute,” Sanders said. “The first game wasn’t how I want it. The second game wasn’t that bad, but still wasn’t what I wanted. I knew I wanted to slow myself down and just go after these hitters because I know I have good stuff.”
Already leading 1-0, LSU tacked on three runs in the fourth. Chris Reid, making his second consecutive start at second base, lifted a sacrifice fly. Another run scored on an error and Watson capped opponent-aided rally with a sharp RBI single to center.
The two sides traded runs in the fifth and sixth innings, though neither tore the cover off the ball. LSU got its runs off walks, errors and a pair of sacrifice flies from Nick Coomes and Beau Jordan, the latter of which scored Watson.
Todd Peterson took over when Sanders ran into trouble in the sixth and pitched well in relief. The former Sunday starter struck out six over 3.2 innings of scoreless relief to earn a lengthy save. He and Sanders tossed a combined five-hitter.
“Both of those guys needed really good dominating outings to build their confidence,” Mainieri said. “We’re going to need both of them, and both of them threw the ball extremely hard. I just thought both of those guys were the story of the game tonight.”
LSU added two unearned runs in the eighth, aided by an error and a bases-loaded walk. The Tigers will be back in action on Wednesday night at UL-Lafayette at 6:30 p.m.
– Freshman right-hander AJ Labas will start on Wednesday night against UL-Lafayette. He threw two scoreless innings in his debut against Southeastern on Sunday. Mainieri declined to discuss who’d be starting this Sunday until Thursday’s media session.
– Fellow freshman right-hander Nick Stroz’s simulated game went “well enough” on Monday, Mainieri said. The coach didn’t specify what that means in terms of a potential timetable for Storz’s debut.
– Second baseman Brandt Broussard (groin) was out of the lineup for a second consecutive game. Mainieri didn’t rule out for him to return Wednesday against the Cajuns, but said he “didn’t feel 100 percent on Tuesday” and that he’d defer to the training staff. LSU may need him, as Reid, his replacement, tweaked his hamstring in the first inning but managed to finish the game.
– Catcher Nick Coomes left the game in the sixth inning after a foul tip appeared to hit him squarely in the facemask. Mainieri said afterword that he demonstrated “minor concussion symptoms” and will be out at least for Wednesday.