LSU exploded out of the gate thanks to some two-out thunder and took care of business in the regular-season home finale at Alex Box Stadium.
Daniel Cabrera capped his unconscious homestand with a two-run homer in the second inning, his third of the eight-game-stretch, as LSU poured it on early only to have to hold on late for a 9-5 victory over Northwestern State on Tuesday night.
“We’re still striving for an NCAA Tournament bid, and every game matters,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We’re in this situation because we ost some midweek games earlier in the year, and I almost felt like tonight was the same as Sunday against Alabama. It was really a must-win for us. We couldn’t lose tonight.”
LSU (32-21) will finish the 2018 season with a highly-respectable mark 29-8 record at home, but unfortunately for the Tigers, a dreadful road record means there won’t be any postseason games at the Box this summer.
Now its postseason aspirations — first reaching the NCAA Tournament, and then advancing should LSU find its way into the field of 64 — hinge on the ability to overcome that bugaboo and win some games played in less friendly confines.
Those are concerns for another day. First LSU made sure not to allow another midweek setback to further hinder it’s struggling RPI.
Operating with a shorthanded pitching staff, Matt Beck gave LSU the start it needed. He took the ball and cruised through three scoreless innings, limiting a legit Demon lineup to two hits while picking up a career-high six strikeouts. Mainieri hinted more extended outings could be in Beck’s future with the SEC Tournament set to begin in a week.
LSU amassed a comfortable lead by the time he left the game. Zach Watson and Nick Coomes got things going with back-to-back two-out knocks in the first inning to drive home a run apiece. Austin Bain tacked on another two-out RBI single in the second when he beat out a ground ball in the shortstop hole.
That allowed the inning to continue for Cabrera. The reigning SEC Freshman of the Week got caught out in front of a 2-0 off-speed pitch, but he still managed to lift the ball over the wall in right. Such is life when a hitter is as hot as Cabrera is right now—he finished the homestand with 15 RBI.
LSU continued the two-out thunder in the third inning. Antoine Duplantis grounded an RBI single up the middle and a second run scored on a wild throw to third base. Bain then picked up his second RBI single of the evening.
“I knew we were going to be bringing guys in and out of the pen all night, so it was important to get them comfortable and know they had a lead,” Bain said. “It was a mental thing and a confidence thing for the team.”
Caleb Gilbert, who has struggled mightily of late, came on for Beck in the fourth and gave LSU two scoreless innings of relief. He worked into and out of trouble in both frames, but that constitutes a confidence boost given the way he’s pitched of late.
With the game seemingly in hand, Mainieri took the chance to pay homage to two seniors playing their final games at the Box. It began with Beau Jordan, who scored two runs out of the leadoff spot, when Mainieri sent his twin brother Bryce up to pinch hit in the seventh inning.
“I kind of had a feeling, but I didn’t know it was going to be Bryce,” Beau said. “It was a pretty great moment for me and Bryce. I’m so blessed to have this opportunity to play for four years and graduate, and it’s an honor.”
He continued: “This city has done so much for me. With the fans and this ballpark, just the smell of this ballpark coming out here every day. We’re here every day for 5-to-7 hours a day. Sometimes you don’t think you’re going to miss this, but when you think about working a job, you’re going to miss these moments.”
Coomes got his standing ovation a few innings later, taking out for Hunter Feduccia as a defensive replacement.
Northwestern State broke up the shutout in the seventh inning thanks to a Jake Slaughter error. Things got hairy with the Demons scoring four times in the eighth inning against a pair of infrequently-used relievers, even bringing the tying run to the plate at one point, but Bain moved from first base to the mound and blew away NSU second baseman Luke Watson on three heaters to avert the meltdown.
Bain and Cabrera picked up consecutive knocks in the eighth inning to help LSU re-fortify its lead. Bain scored on a wild pitch and returned to the mound in the ninth to nail down a four-out save in what is almost certainly his final game at the Box.
Mainieri shared that he joked with LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn about taking Bain out with two away in the ninth inning to get his curtain call, but he smiled to let Dunn know he was kidding because he was murder in his chief assistant’s eyes.
Circumstances prevented him from getting a curtain call like his fellow seniors, but he got something better: the fans chanting his name as he recorded the final three outs in a game his team had to have.
“The most emotional part was when they took out Beau and Coomes, for me at least,” Bain said. “That was the hardest part. I love those guys and I’ve been with them forever, but that’s just life. That was the most emotional part. It wasn’t so much the ninth inning for me … I wanted to be the one to close out the game. I didn’t need to be taken out of the game for recognition. I love these fans. I love this place, and I didn’t mind throwing the last out. It was something for me and it was special to me.”
“Me and Coomes got curtain calls, but we needed Bain in there to pitch,” Jordan added. “He was dealing. He was throwing hard, man. But that’s just Austin Bain. Going out on top competing. I wish nothing but the best for that guy.”
The Tigers will depart for Auburn Wednesday morning and begin the final series of the regular season on Thursday night. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. CT.
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