By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
LSU overcame an early three-run deficit and held on late to complete a three-game sweep of Maryland at Alex Box Stadium Sunday afternoon.
Greg Deichmann belted his fourth home run in eight games, Cole Freeman reached base five times and the Tigers turned a pair of Maryland errors into a five-run third inning to upend the Terrapins 9-5. Caleb Gilbert struck out all six men he faced to pick up the victory in relief.
“I thought it was good for our team to face a pretty substantial deficit,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “It didn’t look like they were going to stop scoring the way they were swinging the bats, and I thought our guys had some terrific at-bats to fight back and tie the game up.”
Freshman right-hander Eric Walker didn’t factor into the decision, but he settled in and battled after Maryland tagged him for a pair of first-inning home runs.
Zach Jancarski led off the game with a deep blast to left and Will Watson, a Monroe native and LSU-Eunice product, connected on a two-run shot with two outs to put Maryland ahead 3-0.
LSU (7-1) chipped away with two runs in the bottom of the second. Deichmann led off the inning with a walk and true freshmen Rankin Woley and Josh Smith followed with back-to-back RBI doubles to cut the deficit to one. Woley has put himself in the thick of the discussion to become LSU’s regular designated hitter.
“Rankin has had some great at-bats for us,” Mainieri said. “He’s a physical kid and he’s got a good swing. He’s a hard-nosed competitor and he’s taken advantage of an opportunity.”
The Tigers pulled ahead in the third thanks largely to the blustery conditions and a pair of Maryland (1-5) errors.
Cole Freeman led off with a popup that landed in front of the mound for a base hit. Two batters later, Kramer Robertson, his at-bat kept going by a dropped foul popup, tied the game with a RBI double down the left-field line.
Still, that would’ve been the full extent of the damage were it not for a booted ball at third base that loaded the bases with two outs. Smith got hit with a pitch to force in the go-ahead run and Mike Papierski lined a two-run single to left.
Freeman drove in the fifth run of the inning — all unearned — with an infield single, his second of the inning, neither of which traveled past the mound. The second baseman matched his career high with three hits on the day.
“We’ve been getting off to early leads against teams and kind of coasting through,” Freeman said. “I think it was good for us to be tested, especially to go down really early. It just shows our maturity, maybe something we didn’t have at this point last year.”
After two quick outs, Maryland loaded the bases against Walker in the fourth thanks to a double and two walks. Walker got Todd Dunn to fly out to right to end the threat. The freshman scattered seven hits and two walks over his four innings.
“It shows the kid has a lot of character,” Mainieri said. “He didn’t give up. He kept battling and got us through four innings.”
Kramer Robertson led off the home fourth with a single, extending his hitting streak to seven games and setting the stage for Deichmann’s latest moonshot to right. It was only the second strike he’s seen all afternoon. He walked on nine total pitches during his first two plate appearances.
For context, it took the slugger 25 games to hit his fourth home run last season, which came at Auburn on April 2.
Paul Mainieri turned the game over to Gilbert to begin the fifth. His stuff was nothing short of electric. His fastball touched 96 mph on the stadium radar gun and get got hitters to chase his curveball.
The six strikeouts set a new career high for the right-handed sophomore, who has worked effectively as both a starter and a reliever early on this season.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Gilbert said of his role. “I’m just here to get outs. Whatever they want me to do to help the team win. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
Doug Norman came on to pitch the seventh but wouldn’t be able to finish it. Having already allowed a run, he dropped to his knees clutching his right elbow after delivering a pitch that walked the bases loaded. Norman left the field with Mainieri and trainer Cody Couture.
Mainieri had no update on Norman’s status after the game, but said “obviously you fear the worst possible thing.”
Collin Strall replaced him, inheriting a bases-loaded, two-out jam and a 9-4 lead to protect. Madison Nickens lined his 3-2 offering to right field, but even with the runners taking off on the pitch, Deichmann cut down the man attempting to score from second base with a rocket throw to the plate to end the inning.
Right-hander Hunter Kiel recorded the first two outs of the eighth inning, but lefty Nick Bush came on and issued three consecutive walks to load the bases. Closer Hunter Newman came on and got induced a fielder’s choice to extinguish the threat. Maryland left 10 men on base Sunday.
Newman worked a scoreless ninth to pick up his first save of the 2017 season. LSU will be back in action Tuesday against Nicholls State at Alex Box Stadium. Zack Hess will start for LSU, Mainieri said.