Tigers score six times in the eighth
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
For 25 frustrating innings of Southeastern Conference play, the LSU bats remained as ice cold as the galling winds howling in from left-center field at Alex Box Stadium.
Trailing Alabama 4-1 in the eighth inning — just six outs away from the being swept by an SEC foe at home for the second time in the Paul Mainieri era — the Tigers finally came to life.
Having mustered four runs up to that point all weekend, LSU sent 10 men to the plate in a six-run eighth inning take the lead for the first time all weekend. The Tide mounted a ninth-inning rally, but Caleb Gilbert stranded the tying runs in scoring position to preserve a 7-5 win to salvage the weekend series.
“At least we found a way,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “It’s not what we hoped for, obviously, but winning today was very crucial. Things looked bleak there for a while, so they found a way to come back in the bottom of the eighth inning there with a lot of terrific at-bats.”
Jordan Romero took a borderline 3-2 pitch for a ball to lead off the inning with a walk. Greg Deichmann and Bryce Jordan followed with singles to load the bases.
Mainieri then pinch hit Brody Wofford for Chris Reid, giving the rookie his first at-bat of the weekend at the game’s most pivotal point.
“I think Brody Wofford is going to be a great hitter for us, and he’s been waiting for an opportunity,” Mainieri said. “He came through with a clutch pinch hit on opening night, and I just figured if I’m not going to use him then, when am I going to use him.”
The rookie fell behind in the count 0-2, but battled back and lined a 2-2 offering back through the box for a two-run single to pull LSU within a run.
“I just tried to shorten up my swing, simplify it a little bit,” Wofford said. “Just try to read fastball and adjust off-speed. Lucked out and got one it hit.”
Cole Freeman, who squared to try a squeeze bunt, got plunked to reload the bases. Kramer Robertson skied a routine fly ball to shallow right, but Tide right fielder lost the ball in the sun and it fell in for the go-ahead two-run single.
With two outs, Beau Jordan lined an RBI single to left to add an insurance run that wound up being the difference. Robertson also raced around and scored on the base knock as the ball got past the left fielder, one of four Crimson Tide errors on the afternoon.
“It started off a lot the same (as yesterday),” Robertson said. “A lot of balls hit hard right at people and we weren’t executing well … But nobody had their heads down. We always came in the dugout trying to battle. Keep winning you at-bats and good things will happen if you hit the ball hard.
While it didn’t factor into the decision, Paul Mainieri appears to have found the reliable third starter his teams desperately lacked the past two seasons.
Senior lefty John Valek III struck out eight in his Southeastern Conference debut, scattering seven hits over six innings of two-run ball.
“My job is to go out there and keep doing what I’ve been doing,” Valek said. “Once we got behind there early on, I just wanted to keep the team in the game and give them a chance to come back. Thankfully, we did that.”
For context, LSU only got six innings from its No. 3 starter once last season in nine series of SEC play last season. Four different Sunday starters allowed a total of 20 earned runs in 29.1 innings of work (6.14 ERA).
Back in 2014, LSU’s No. 3 starters worked a total of 24 innings and allowed 18 runs in SEC play (6.75 ERA) without any start lasting longer than four innings — though most of that was by design.
“That guy is a veteran senior for us, and I think just his presence on the mound is huge,” Robertson said. “He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he’s going to go out there and throw strikes and compete for us. It’s a shame he wasn’t able to come out with the win because he pitched well enough and deserved to get one.”
Alabama played small ball to manufacture an early lead. Left fielder Hunter Webb led off the game with an infield single. He advances to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a two-out single by Cody Hunter two batters later.
Third baseman Daniel Cucjen led off the third inning with a single and advanced on a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch before he came around to score on a hard single to left field off the bat of shortstop Chandler Avant.
After leaving five men on base through four innings, LSU cut the lead in half with an unearned run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Cole Freeman reached on an error by Cucjen and scored on a two-out, RBI infield single by Antoine Duplantis.
Alabama got two runners in scoring position against Valek in the ensuing frame, but the veteran battled back to strike out centerfielder Georgie Salem and won a nine-pitch battle with catcher Will Haynie, inducing a foul pop off first base to retire the side.
“That was a big battle,” said Valek, who was visibly fired up as he strolled off the mound. “Probably had a sense that was going to be my last batter, so I kind of left it all out there.”
LSU (14-5, 1-2 SEC) will be back in action Tuesday night, traveling to Zephyr Field to take on UL-Lafayette in the Wally Pontiff Classic.
– Mainieri said after the game that trainers feel third baseman O’Neal Lochridge (back) is still at least a week away.
– While he wasn’t sure who’d start against the Cajuns, Mainieri did say it would be another Jack Wholestaff style effort with multiple pitchers taking the mound.
– Duplantis extended his career-length hitting streak to 19 games, one behind Blake Dean for the second-longest freshmen hitting streak since 1997. Alex Bregman’s 23-game hitting streak in 2013 stands as the longest by a freshman in the past 20 years.