By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
LAKE CHARLES, La. — The road hasn’t been a friendly place to LSU in midweek games so far this season.
McNeese State scored the go-ahead run on a perfectly-executed squeeze play in the seventh inning and Mitchell Rogers homered twice as the Cowboys held off LSU 5-4 in front of a record crowd of 2,821 at a rowdy Joe Miller Ballpark on Wednesday night.
The Tigers had plenty of chances to come back — none bigger than the ninth inning — but it failed to capitalize on most of its opportunities. LSU has now lost midweek road games to UNO and McNeese State to begin the season.
“We just didn’t do enough,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “When you’re on the road against a good team, there’s a lot of things you have to overcome, and it’s hard to score in the low runs and expect your pitching and defense to be good enough to win those tough games on the road. We’re right there … Right now we’re a hit or two short. A pitch or two short. A play or two short on a couple of games.”
Trailing 5-3 , Josh Smith’s fourth hit of the evening gave the Tigers life in the ninth, and Jake Slaughter’s opposite-field double put the tying run in scoring position. Chris Reid, who entered the game as a pinch hitter and walked in the eighth, came through with a clutch RBI single to left field that brought the tying run within 90 feet of the plate.
However, pinch hitter Jordan Romero struck out on a 3-2 breaking ball and Lake Charles native Beau Jordan bounced out to shortstop to end the game. LSU left 14 runners on base Wednesday.
“It sucks to lose,” Jordan said. “We weren’t getting timely hitting. It wasn’t consecutive hits. We got plenty of hits today, it’s just we weren’t capitalizing on runners in scoring position, like right there in the end.”
The game has a high-scoring, back-and-fourth feel before the bullpens took over.
LSU freshman Zack Hess struggled mightily in his first ever road outing. He lasted just 2.2 innings, the shortest start of his young career, yielding three earned runs on four hits and issuing four walks. He didn’t factor in the decision.
McNeese jump ahead in the bottom on the first inning. Batting with a man on first and two out, McNeese cleanup man Matt Gallier drilled a 3-2 offering from Hess off the wall in dead center field for a run-scoring double.
LSU briefly pulled even in the second inning as Jordan came through with a two-out RBI single up the middle. Jordan reached base safely in each of his first three plate appearances. However, the Cowboys quickly retook the lead as Rogers belted his first solo home run to left off Hess to lead off the home second inning.
That lead wouldn’t last long, either. Smith singled to center to bring home Kramer Robertson, who singled to break a 0-for-10 mini skid. Smith also singled to lead off the second and scored LSU’s first run of the night.
McNeese chased Hess in the bottom of the third inning. Nate Fisbeck lined a two-out RBI single into center field to put the Cowboys back on top and send Mainieri to the bullpen.
“We walked six batters in the first four innings,” Mainieri said. “I told him I didn’t take him out because the guy got a base hit off of him. It wasn’t a bad pitch … I took him out because he walked the first two batters of the inning. You can’t do that … He’ll get better, he’s just got a way to go.”
Austin Bain came on and got a strikeout to prevent further damage. He logged LSU’s first scoreless inning of the evening in the fourth thanks to some defensive help behind him. With two on and two out, Robertson ranged up the middle and flipped Cole Freeman for the force out.
The scariest moment of the night for LSU came in the fifth when Smith got hit by a pitch in the hand and immediately doubled over in pain. Mainieri and LSU trainer Cory Couture came out to check on the freshman, who not only stayed in the game, but got two more hits afterward.
“Right when it happened I was kind of nervous,” Smith said. “I thought something bad might’ve happened. But I got pretty lucky and it just kind of hit my knuckle a little bit. It swelled up, but other than that it’s all good.”
The Tigers capitalized on a pair of fielding misplays to tie the game in the seventh. A Smith single loaded the bases, and a Slaughter chopped to third brought home the tying run.
LSU will be back at home Friday to begin a three-game series against Wichita State at Alex Box Stadium. Southeastern Conference play begins a week from Friday.