After three straight walks loaded the bases with no outs in the LSU fourth inning, freshman shortstop Collier Cranford and second baseman Cade Doughty hit back to back singles to right field.
At face value that may not sound like much. They won’t make the SportsCenter Top 10 plays, but they were the hits that broke the floodgates open in and kickstarted a five-run inning that propelled LSU to an 11-2 victory over UMass Lowell Friday night in Alex Box Stadium.
More importantly, they represented a week’s worth of coaching taking hold.
Following LSU’s (9-5) trip to Houston where it went 1-2, struck out 34 times, and were no-hit in the Sunday finale against Oklahoma, the LSU coaching staff came back to Baton Rouge and preached an opposite field approach. The idea was that by trying to hit the ball to the opposite field, Tiger hitters could cut down on the number of strikeouts and use more of the field.
In the biggest moment of a yet to be decided game, two freshman infielders followed to their instruction and came through with opposite field hits top validate their coaches.
“It’s just nice to have worked so hard with them all week to see them take it, absorb it, and apply it,” Mainieri said. “It’s very rewarding as a coach…I think the guys are starting to learn, buy in and understand that’s what we’ve got to do.”
LSU’s first four hits of the game went to the opposite field, two of which came from Doughty. He later capped off a perfect 3 for 3 night with a line drive up the middle to score two runs.
Going back to Tuesday’s midweek game against Southeastern Louisiana where the opposite field approach was hammered into the players, Doughty is 5 for 9 with five RBI, including a two-run home run against the Lions.
“It’s going really well,” Doughty said. “I’m able to hit the ball over there with some authority, I’m not really trying to push the ball over there. I’m getting good pitches to hit; I’m just trying not to miss them.”
Cranford’s single was his only hit in two at bats tonight, but in the Southeastern game he had a big two-out RBI double that also went to the opposite field.
“Since buying into to that approach, I feel like I’m seeing the ball really well,” Cranford said. “I’m picking up spin well, seeing pitches that are out of the zone early, and being able to lay off those pitches, not swinging at bad pitches. I have that confidence of seeing the ball and getting the barrel to it. I think it’s working out great.”
Catcher Saul Garza and left fielder Giovanni DiGiacomo hit doubles to the opposite field, both to leadoff the inning. They came around to score following both hits.
Six of LSU’s 11 runs were provided by the bottom third of the lineup consisting of DiGiacomo, left fielder Drew Bianco, and Cranford. The trio went 4 for 7 with four walks and three RBI, including a 3 for 3 outing from DiGiacomo with a walk and RBI to boot.
“Evidenced by tonight, it’s great,” DiGiacomo said of the opposite field approach. “I think that it helps us stay through the ball a lot better and it helps up to not just hit balls hard but react to off-speed pitches. We battled.”
Third baseman Zack Mathis had a statistical oddity at the plate, recording three RBI despite going 0 for 4 at the plate. Mathis was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, hit a sacrifice fly, and hit into an RBI groundout
UMass Lowell (4-7) scored the first run of the game when LSU starter Cole Henry allowed a single and a double in the third inning. LSU responded with a run of their own following the DiGiacomo leadoff double and stormed ahead in the next inning, but LSU starting pitcher Cole Henry lacked his usual sharpness.
Henry only pitched four innings where he allowed five hits and one run (earned) with a walk and two strikeouts. In each inning, Henry’s velocity dipped lower and lower, starting in the 93-92 mile per hour range before sliding down to 88-87.
Mainieri and Henry both denied any injury or discomfort leading to the dip in velocity.
“My body just felt out of whack,” Henry said. “I guess it’s still recovering from last week’s start. I threw a lot of pitches and we had a really long inning. It’s just one of those things you have to take start by start and kind of figure out your body and your work week. We’ll reassess this week and figure out my workload for the upcoming weekend.”
Matthew Beck came in and provided three innings in relief where he allowed an unearned run on two hits and two walks with four strikeouts.
The win is Mainieri’s 600th at LSU and his 1,464th overall. When asked, he brushed off any real strong sentiments over his win total.
“That’s just a number for me,” Mainieri said. “Fortunately, I’ve had a long career and a lot of milestone wins. I’d rather win the games than lose the games honestly. I’ve been the coach here for 14 years now. If you coach for 14 years at LSU, you better win a lot of games. The most important thing for me is the relationships you build with the young men. You try to help them with their path in life, that’s the thing that means the most to me. But certainly, the wins are important so you can have your job and impact those lives along the way.”
LSU will try to get Mainieri win No. 601 in Baton Rouge Saturday when the Tigers and River Hawks face off for game two at 4:00 p.m. The game will be broadcast online via the SEC Network+ and can be heard over the airwaves on 100.7 FM.