Four games into No. 22 ranked LSU’s SEC baseball coach Paul Mainieri is already tired of his postgame summation of “You’ve got to tip your hat to their pitcher.”
On Friday night in Knoxville in the role of “their pitcher” was Tennessee junior righthander Chad Dallas. After giving up a leadoff second inning homer to LSU left fielder Gavin Dugas, Dallas shook it off and finished with a career-high 11 strikeouts in his seven innings of the 12th ranked Vols’ 3-1 victory.
Dallas (4-0) struck seven of nine in LSU’s original batting order. He gave up all five LSU hits (all singles), walked one and didn’t allow a Tigers’ base runner past second base as did reliever Sean Hunley who pitched two scoreless and hitless innings in closing out the anemic Tigers (16-6, 1-3 SEC).
“You tip your hat to their pitcher (Dallas) and their reliever was really good,” Mainieri said. “You know you’re going to face good arms in this league, so you just can’t tip your hat every night. You’ve got to come up with answers and you’ve got to compete against the best pitchers in the country.”
Game two starts Saturday at 5 p.m. LSU will start junior righthander Jaden Hill (2-2, 5.18 ERA, 24.1 innings pitched, 17 strikeouts, 6 walks) on the mound against Tennessee senior lefty Will Heflin (2-1, 4.22 ERA, 21.1 IP, 24 SO 4 walks).
LSU’s 10 runs in its first four SEC games is the least amount the Tigers have scored in their first four conference games in 40 seasons. In 1981 under third-year coach Jack Lamabe, the Tigers scored just nine runs.
“I’ll tell you one thing, we’re not going to be down from this,” Dugas vowed after the Tigers scored one run again for the second straight Friday night following their 6-1 SEC opening loss a week ago to Mississippi State in Alex Box Stadium. “There’s no hanging heads, there’s a lot of anger in a good way. We’re going to use it tomorrow and the rest of the year.”
LSU wasted a solid pitching effort from right-hander Landon Marceaux, who was moved from Saturday to Friday night starter this week after opening the season with 31.1 consecutive innings.
His streak ended at 33.2 innings in the Tennessee third when third baseman Jake Rucker’s triple under the diving glove of LSU center fielder Mitchell Sanford scored Vols’ shortstop Liam Spence who led off the inning with a double. Rucker then scored for a 2-1 lead on a passed ball charged to LSU catcher Hayden Travinski.
Marceaux (2-2) struck out the last two batters and didn’t allow another hit until he made his exit after five innings. He finished allowing three hits, two runs (one earned) with nine strikeouts and three walks.
Those were numbers good enough to win most games, but not for LSU because it has given virtually no run support to its starting pitchers so far in SEC play.
Marceaux also said he didn’t have his best stuff.
“My two-seam (fastball) was really running out of control, so much that I had no idea where it was going,” Marceaux said. “You get behind in counts and they make you pay for it.
“Credit them for that, but as a starting pitcher my job is to keep my team in the game. You can easily fold or you keep putting up zeroes and give your team a chance to win.”
But Dallas was basically untouchable, before and after the solo homer.
“They (LSU) were sitting heater (fastballs) for awhile, so I had to throw more breaking balls than I was expecting,” Dallas said. “That was fine. We kept throwing it and landing it and trying to get them to chase. When they stopped chasing, I started pounding the (strike) zone and trusting the guys behind me.”
Tennessee coach Tony Vitello, whose team improved to 19-4, 3-1 in the SEC, described Dallas’ performance as “pitching with your heart and your guts is just as important as your arm.”
“We really haven’t been getting him up to pitch going into the eighth or getting to 100 pitches,” Vitello said of Dallas who threw 67 strikes in 101 pitches. “This was the first night he got to that spot and he had to do it with all guts as we got closer to the end.”