LSU splits doubleheader to clinch season opening series over Indiana

LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri's Tigers open the 2021 season vs. Air Force on Feb. 19 in Alex Box Stadium.

LSU survived a late rally attempt from Indiana to win game one of Saturday’s doubleheader 7-4 and capture the season opening weekend series in Alex Box Stadium before dropping the series finale 7-2.

In the first game, the Tigers (2-1) almost saw a 5-1 lead through four innings evaporate. With LSU clinging to 5-4 lead entering the bottom of the eighth, freshman catcher Alex Milazzo’s two-run double gave LSU closer Devin Fontenot breathing room to close out the Hoosiers (1-2) in the top of the ninth.

LSU came out flat in the second game, recording just six hits. The Tigers did not record a hit off Hoosiers’ starting pitcher Braydon Tucker until Cade Beloso’s leadoff single in the fifth inning. Tucker threw six innings and allowed one earned run on four hits with no walks and a strikeout.

“It’s hard to sweep a three-game series,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “It’s really hard to sweep doubleheaders in the same day. I just feel like we lost a little bit of that edge after winning the first two games and then having an hour off. But I give a lot of credit to Indiana, I told you they had a good team.”

Indiana opened the first game with a run after Grant Richardson’s line drive to right fell just short of diving right fielder Daniel Cabrera’s glove. Richardson advanced to third base and scored on Cole Barr’s sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead.

LSU responded with five straight runs, starting with Beloso’s game-tying RBI single in the second inning, then two runs in the second via a Indiana error and a Hal Hughes sacrifice fly and two more runs in the fourth on Milazzo’s fielders choice ground out and Hughes’ RBI single.

“Hal can do some good things at times,” Mainieri said. “He’s not going to hit for high average but he’s gotta have productive at-bats. And he did today.”

Tigers’ starting pitcher Landon Marceaux ran out of gas in the fifth inning when he got tagged for three hits, including a two-run homer by Cole Barr that sliced LSU’s lead to 5-3.

Marceaux exited after Indiana left fielder Elijah Dunham’s double. The Tigers’ sophomore right-hander finished his 2020 debut throwing 4.1 innings, allowing three runs (all earned) on six hits and two walks while striking out two.

“I didn’t really have my best stuff all game,” Marceaux said. “I pitched with what I had, I competed with what I had and I kept us in the game. That’s all that mattered.”

It wasn’t a dominant or a particularly strong effort from Marceaux, but he did enough to keep the Hoosiers at arm length.

“He pitched in the clutch a lot, he pitched out of some jams, he keeps fighting and battling,” Mainieri said of Marceaux. “It wasn’t an easy outing for him. His ratio of balls to strikes wasn’t what it needs to be. He kept trying to nibble at the corner and kept missing, and kept falling behind in counts and so forth. But when needed, he got some big outs, kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win.”

Indiana put Fontenot, LSU’s third and final reliever of the game, in hot water after the Hoosiers led off the eighth inning with a single and a walk.

Tigers’ third baseman Zack Mathis made a full extension dive on a popped up bunt for the first out and shortstop Hughes combined with second baseman Cade Doughty to turn what appeared to be a great inning-ending double play.

But after a review, the runner was ruled safe at first base, extending the inning. It allowed Indiana second baseman Drew Ashley to hit an RBI single to left to cut LSU’s lead to 5-4.

After Beloso led off the Tigers’ eighth with a double followed by two strikeouts, Milazzo stepped in for his at-bat and understood the situation.

“I knew we had to get those two runs in to help our pitchers out in the ninth inning,” Milazzo said. “That way our pitchers can go out there with a comfortable lead and throw strikes, pound the zone, and get out the game with the W.”

That’s when Milazzo came through with his big hit in his college debut.

“That little Milazzo kid, do you see why I love him so much?,” Maineri said. “He’s just a scrapper and a fighter and he’ll battle you until the end.”

Just like in game one, Indiana reached the scoreboard first in game two.

In the third inning, LSU centerfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo made a bad read on a line drive, allowing it to sail over his head to the wall, putting right fielder Hunter Jessee at third base. He made a great catch at the wall for the next out, but the sacrifice fly allowed Jessee to score the game’s opening run.

The Hoosiers scored came two more runs in the fifth for a 3-0 lead after back-to-back singles chased Tigers’ starter AJ Labas. Indiana scored those runners with a sacrifice fly and a double to left center from Richardson.

Labas’ first start since 2018 ended after 4.1 innings of work. He gave up three runs (all earned) on three hits and one walk with four strikeouts.

Labas was the first of LSU’s eight pitchers in game two. Jaden Hill was the only reliever who worked more than a full inning, entering the game in the sixth inning, earlier than Mainieri had planned.

“I had hoped to pitch Hill in the eighth and ninth inning, but I felt that we were at the point where we just needed to stop them and stay in the game,” Mainieri said. “He held us there and gave us a chance, we just couldn’t muster enough offense to overcome their good arms.”

Hill wowed the crowd with his two innings of scoreless ball. He lit up the radar gun, firing off 97 and 98 mph fastballs with ease, striking out three and allowing one walk.

His appearance was the first time he pitched in a game since the Bryant series last February before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Being back on the mound was exhilarating for Hill, almost too much.

“Hoo lord, I’m back,” Hill said. “I almost lost it out there, I was so excited and glad to be out there. After two pitches I was good, but at first I was light headed. My feet felt all light and everything. I feel like I did great, I felt great.”

LSU reached the scoreboard in the sixth after Gavin Dugas led off the inning with a single to right. Dugas advanced on a wild pitch and infield single from Cabrera, scoring on a sacrifice fly from Doughty to make it 3-1.

Indiana added an insurance run in the eighth inning after two walks and an error loaded the bases, leading to a sacrifice fly from Collin Hopkins. The Hoosiers came back the next inning and scored three more runs off a two-run home run from Richardson and an infield single from first baseman Jordan Fucci to make it 7-1

With the dinger, Richardson completed a 5-for-9 day scoring and batting in four runs each.

Mathis led off the bottom of the ninth with the first home run of his career at LSU, a no-doubt missile that landed halfway up the Diamond Deck in right field.

LSU returns to the Box Tuesday for an earlier first pitch than usual when the Tigers host Southern at 5 p.m. before traveling to Thibodaux Wednesday against Nicholls at 6 p.m.. The Southern game will be broadcast online via the SECN+ and the Nicholls game will be televised on CST.

“For me, this loss just means we’re not going to go 56-0,” Mainieri said. “We’ve just got to turn the page and get ready for two big midweek games.”

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