One run trotted home on a bases-loaded hit batsman. Another on a wild pitch. LSU’s massive catcher beat out an infield single to allow another run to score and its star shortstop lined an RBI single off the outstretched glove of his Auburn counterpart.
It wasn’t exactly the power display LSU put on the night before, but against one of the toughest left-handers in the Southeastern Conference, LSU resolved to rally by any means necessary.
LSU scratched across four runs in the fourth inning against Auburn ace Jack Owen, who came into the night with a stellar 1.91 ERA. Landon Marceaux faced one above the minimum over seven dominant innings as LSU clinched the series with a 5-1 win at Alex Box Stadium on Friday night.
“I pitched deep into the ballgame, and that’s what we really needed today,” Marceaux said.
Having secured the series win, LSU coach Paul Mainieri must now decide how best to deploy his pitching in regards to Saturday’s series and the SEC Tournament, which gets underway Tuesday in Hoover.
The win coupled with an Ole Miss loss to Tennessee clinched the No. 5 seed for LSU. Mainieri hadn’t decided on a Saturday starter, but said it would be a “combination of guys” and that LSU would play to win regardless of having seeding clinched for Hoover.
It had been more than a month since LSU got six innings from any of its starting pitchers. Eric Walker and Marceaux accomplished the feat on consecutive nights as LSU (34-21, 17-12 SEC) continued its quest to secure hosting privileges for an NCAA Regional.
LSU signed Marceaux and penciled him into the weekend rotation as a true freshman because everybody involved believed he had the stuff, command and composure to duel with the best that the Southeastern Conference has to offer.
The name Aaron Nola was thrown around during fall ball and preseason camp as the phenom-in-training didn’t allow a single run in his scrimmage starts. Expectations were sky high and then some, and he looked well on his way to stardom after a sterling debut.
Obviously that’s not what happened. Marceaux lost his spot in the weekend rotation to fellow freshman Cole Henry a few weeks later and battled arm soreness that kept him out of action entirely. When he did pitch, he was usually ineffective and lacked velocity.
“I think we would’ve seen him pitch like that all year if he would’ve stayed healthy,” Mainieri said. “But what’s done is done, and now Landon is healthy and he’s pitching great. Hopefully he pitches great in the postseason.”
Marceaux began to look like his old, healthy self a few weeks ago. He won a critical rubber match at Alabama and regained his spot in the rotation. Friday night represented his third strong outing in four starts and arguably the best showing of his career to date.
Everything in his arsenal was working. Marceaux could spot his four- and two-seam fastballs to both sides of the plate. His slow hook kept hitters off balance. His changeup was nasty, especially to left-handed hitters.
“I was able to command three pitches for strikes,” Marceaux said. “That was the big thing for me. It’s hard being a two-pitch guy in this league. They’re going to sit on one and take the other one. If you’ve got three, you’re in a good spot.”
After a leadoff single, Marceaux induced a 6-4-3 double play and retired 11 Auburn (31-23, 13-16 SEC) hitters in a row. His only blemish came on a Will Holland solo homer to begin the fifth inning, and Marceaux retired his final nine hitters in a row after that. He struck out a career-high seven and allowed just two hits.
“I know there was a lot of hype around him, and I think everybody is starting to see why,” said Zack Hess, who nailed down a six-out save. “You always knew it was in there. It wasn’t a matter of if he’s going to succeed here. It was a matter of when.”
LSU’s fourth-inning rally began with singles from Antoine Duplantis and Hal Hughes sandwiched around a walk to Daniel Cabrera. That loaded the bases with one out, which is when things got a bit weird.
Cade Beloso got hit to force in a run, and Cabrera scored on a wild pitch. Saul Garza beat out an infield chopper to score a third run and Josh Smith capped the rally with an RBI single.
“It was just everyone staying confident in the plan,” said Beloso, who also drive in a run in the eighth inning.
Mainieri turned the game over to Hess with a 4-1 lead after seven innings. Hess retired the final six batters of the game in order for the save, his second of the season.
The regular-season finale is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, weather permitting. LSU will hold Senior Day ceremonies before the game.
Photo courtesy of LSU Sports Information