LSU simply couldn’t get the offense going on a cold Friday night in Alex Box Stadium and as a result dropped the first game of the series against Eastern Kentucky 2-0.
The morbid details: three hits, 1-of-17 with runners on base, 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, 1-of-10 with two outs, and 0-for-2 with the bases loaded. The Tigers (3-3) didn’t record a hit until Cade Beloso led off the fifth inning with a single to right, and they wouldn’t get another until the eighth inning.
LSU got runners on base with six walks, but couldn’t find the hit to advance or score them.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” catcher Alex Milazzo said. “We’ve got to find a way to go up there and grind out at-bats and put the ball in play hard. We’ve got to stop popping up, especially with the wind blowing in like tonight. You’ve got to hard line drives and ground balls to get the offense rolling. We didn’t do that tonight.
EKU (4-0) starter Brennan Kelly put the Tigers on ice, throwing 4.1 innings in which he allowed no runs and a hit with three walks and strikeouts. Reliever Louis Davenport III was just as effective, putting up 2.1 innings of hitless ball with four strikeouts and a pair of walks.
The Colonels’ pitching staff found success by going away from what LSU was used to seeing. Colonels’ pitchers were sitting in the mid-60 and 70 miles per hour range with their pitches, up to 30 mph less than the Tigers were used to seeing. That coupled with a bitter wind blowing in made life difficult for LSU hitters.
“It was unorthodox style of pitching we faced tonight, and we just weren’t able to do anything with it,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “It’s not often you face pitchers that are not even going to 80 miles per hour.”
LSU starter Cole Henry did all he could to hold back Eastern Kentucky in his five innings of work. He only allowed two runs (one earned) off three hits and three walks, while also striking out three.
While the chill had it’s effect on the hitters, it also troubled pitchers. The 46 degree first pitch temperature made it hard for Henry to grip and effectively pitch his curveball and command his pitches.
“It’s kind of tough to battle when you don’t really have a curveball,” Henry said. “Just trying to get a grip on the ball is tough in the cold weather. I was just trying to battle and keep my team in the game as long as possible. That’s my job as a pitcher and that’s what I’m going to try to do every time, whether I have a curveball or not. It’s just one of those nights.”
Relievers Jaden Hill and Matthew Beck combined only allowed one hit in four innings, striking out six and walking four. But like Henry, they just couldn’t get any run support.
Eastern Kentucky scored the first run of the game after Henry issued a pair of walks and third baseman Zack Mathis committed an error on what could have been the inning-ending double play ball to load the bases with one out. EKU catcher AJ Lewis hit a line drive to third that Mathis knocked down but couldn’t reel in, resulting in every base runner advancing safely and giving the Colonels a one-run lead.
After a leadoff single and a bunt in the fifth inning, EKU scored another run off Nick Howie’s single to right field.
LSU had a golden opportunity in the bottom of the fifth when the Tigers loaded the bases with one out, but a strikeout from Hal Hughes and a pop up from Cade Doughty ended the threat.
All told, LSU left 10 batters on base, including two in the ninth inning.
“You can’t win if you don’t score any runs,” Mainieri said. “We just were baffled tonight. We couldn’t get anything going. We didn’t pitch well enough, we didn’t hit well enough, we didn’t coach well enough to win tonight. We have to take it and bounce back tomorrow.”
After the game, Mainieri didn’t address his team in the outfield like he usually does. He instead called them back out of the dugout into the team meeting room, where he shared a heart to heart after the Tigers dropped their second frustrating loss in a row.
“Coach told us that we’re going to come out here and play tomorrow,” Henry said. “We have 50 more games. I don’t think we have any time to stress and worry about how the rest of the season goes, we have to play again tomorrow. And it doesn’t get any easier, we have a hot Louisiana Tech team coming on Wednesday and then we go to Houston to play Texas, Baylor, and Oklahoma. We don’t have a lot of time to sit around and sulk about these losses, we just got to keep grinding and keep playing baseball.”