After getting no-hit by Oklahoma’s Dane Acker in its 1-0 loss in the Sunday finale in the Shriners’ Hospitals for Children Classic in Houston, LSU needed a rebound.
It got that Tuesday night with a 6-3 victory over Southeastern Louisiana in Alex Box Stadium, but it was far from perfect.
LSU (8-5) started off strong, scoring five of its six runs in the first three innings. But after that the Tigers’ bats went quiet, scoring just once in the fifth inning and picking up three hits the rest of the game.
The gradual offensive fade is a trait LSU head coach Paul Mainieri has harped on. To date, 37 of the Tigers’ 64 runs have been scored in the first three innings, 17 runs in the middle innings, and only 10 runs in the final three innings.
“I think it’s partially just having young players,” Mainieri said. “If they don’t have good at bats early in the game, maybe they get down on themselves and lose a little bit of confidence. Then in the at bats late in the game, they’re not thinking positive the way they need to. It’s just something to keep working on and addressing.”
Left fielder Drew Bianco kicked things off with a one-out double in the first inning. He advanced to third on an error by SLU counterpart Matt Taylor and scored on an RBI ground out from right fielder Daniel Cabrera for a 1-0 LSU lead.
The Tigers increased their advantage to 3-0 in the second with center fielder Giovanni DiGiacomo and shortstop Collier Cranford producing clutch two-out hitting. DiGiacomo’s RBI single scored catcher Saul Garza and Cranford’s RBI double drove in DiGiacomo.
Freshman second baseman Cade Doughty smashed a two-run home run in the third inning that exited the ballpark over the left field stands for a 5-1 Tigers’ cushion.
“I stayed with my same approach, just trying to go over the second baseman’s head,” Doughty said. “He hung a change-up, so I was really able to barrel up the ball.”
LSU added one last run in the fifth for a 6-1 lead. After a leadoff walk to Bianco, he scored on back-to-back singles from Cabrera and Cade Beloso.
“We came out ready to play against a good Southeastern team,” Cabrera said. “We did a pretty good job. We probably could have finished a little better at the end, scratched a few more hits and a few more runs. But it’s baseball, we’ll learn from it and get better from it.”
The Tigers might not have played the full nine innings with the same energy they started the game, but there were some positive trends on display offensively.
Normally, LSU has Mondays off. But after getting no-hit Sunday, Mainieri swapped the Monday off day for Thursday to get the team back on the field and refocused as soon as possible.
The Tigers worked on their hitters pushing the ball to the opposite field as well as reducing the number of strikeouts (34) they had in three games in Houston.
It may not have lasted for the entire game against the visiting Lions, but that approach did work in the opening innings.
“Early in the game, I thought we had some really good at bats,” Mainieri said. “We worked really hard on trying to the opposite field in practice and I think we had four or five hits early in the game go the other way. It wasn’t a real pretty performance, but we found a way to win and at the end of the day that’s what counts. I’d rather have a grind it out, not so pretty win than a really good looking loss.”
The Tigers struck out five times Wednesday, much better than their performance in Houston where they struck out more 10 times each in a win over Texas and in losses to Baylor and Oklahoma.
“We completely put that behind us,” Doughty said. “We just came out today with our approaches set in stone and really focused on what we could control and and it ended up working out for us.”
Southeastern (5-7) reached the scoreboard in the third inning when catcher Connor Manola drew a leadoff walk and scored on consecutive two-out hits from shortstop Tyler Finke and right fielder Christian Garcia.
The Lions added another run in the sixth on designated hitter Jacob Burke’s solo homer. Then, first baseman Preston Faulkner hit a leadoff single in the seventh and eventually scored following a single, fielders choice, and sacrifice fly from Garcia to cut LSU’s lead to 6-3.
Brandon Kaminer got his third midweek start for the Tigers. His three-inning outing was his longest to date, as he allowed one earned run off three hits and a walk while striking out three.
Then, Tigers’ reliever Nick Storz threw two hitless innings, striking out two and walking one.
LSU closer Devin Fontenot pitched the final two innings, shutting out SLU to earn his third save of the season.
When Fontenot came on in the eighth, he inherited a runner on base with no outs. After back-to-back strikeouts, he issued a walk to bring the tying run to the plate, but got out of trouble with a third-out line drive to left.
After giving up a lead off walk in the ninth, Fontenot struck out the side to end the game.
The Tigers are scheduled to return to Alex Box Wednesday night to face Grambling at 6:30 p.m., but the threat of rain is substantial. If the game does take place, it will be broadcast online via the SEC Network+.
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