LSU junior starting pitcher Landon Marceaux and senior reliever Devin Fontenot took the phrase “bend but don’t break” almost past the point of no return Friday night in Alex Box Stadium.
In possibly their last home games ever, major league draft prospects Marceaux and Fontenot somehow held Alabama to a single run as the Tigers took the SEC series opener with a 2-1 victory.
Just two runs wouldn’t have been enough scoring for LSU to win in 20 of its previous 24 league games. But with Marceaux and Fontenot dancing out of mine fields almost every inning, Alabama (19-11, 11-13) produced the strange stat line of 13 hits and 13 runners left on base.
“Marceaux was Houdini all night pitching out of jams,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, whose team improved to 31-18 overall and 10-15 in the SEC in its late-season quest to rally for an NCAA tournament invite. “Every inning he was in trouble and somehow he’d get out of it. Fontenot got himself in a jam in the eighth inning and pitched out of it.
“I don’t know if it was outstanding pitching in the clutch or poor hitting in the clutch.”
Marceaux gave up a career-high 11 hits and uncharacteristically put himself in trouble in almost every inning. And unbelievably, he escaped every time.
The Crimson Tide left two runners on base in first, second, fourth and fifth innings and one each in the third and sixth. Alabama got three hits each in the fourth and fifth innings and didn’t score a run.
Marceaux, who went 6.1 innings, struck out six and walked none, didn’t think he pitched poorly.
“If you go back and evaluate it,” Marceaux said, “probably if eight of those 11 hits would have been off wooden bats they would have broken and hit me in the forehead. A lot of jam shots, they (Alabama hitters) were strong guys who had a lot of bloopers over our shortstop and second baseman’s heads into that Bermuda Triangle in right field.”
Marceaux got the win despite another outing with no run support from the LSU bats. In seven of his nine SEC starts this season, the Tigers have scored two runs or less when he’s on the mound including no runs three times and one run twice.
The closest Alabama came to scoring off Marceaux was in the fourth inning when he allowed three straight one-out singles to load the bases before getting second baseman Peyton Wilson to fly out to shallow right field.
It’s where LSU sophomore right fielder Mitchell Sanford made the catch and fired a strike in the air to the waiting glove of Tigers’ catcher Alex Milazzo. He tagged out a diving Alabama first baseman David Heller at home plate, trying to score on a possible sacrifice fly, to complete the inning-ending double-play.
“On those kinds of plays, you just want to catch the ball on the run and get as much momentum going as you can,” Sanford said. “I got it (the ball) out (of the glove) quick enough and I was able to make an accurate throw.”
LSU’s offense consisted of five hits, a first-inning sacrifice fly RBI by left fielder Gavin Dugas and a seventh-inning double by Drew Bianco that scored designated hitter Cade Beloso.
The Tigers were handcuffed by Alabama starting pitcher Tyler Ras, who deserved a better fate.
After LSU’s two-hit, one-run first, the Tigers got just one runner as far as second base in the next five innings. Ras struck out two LSU batters each in the third, fifth and six innings.
In the LSU seventh, Rah got the first two outs before walking Beloso and was replaced by reliever William Freeman. Bianco then slapped a double into the left field corner, scoring Beloso when Tide left fielder Jackson Tate momentarily bobbled the ball.
Ras lasted 6.2 innings, allowed four hits, two runs (he was responsible for Beloso’s run because he walked him), struck out a career-high eight and walked three.
Fontenot gave up Alabama’s only run in the eighth when the Tide rallied with two outs as shortstop Jim Jarvis’ RBI triple scored first baseman Davis Heller who had singled.
“We made a couple of very costly mistakes and LSU didn’t make any,” Alabama coach Brad Bohannon said. “The game came down to their pitchers beating us in RBI-situations. We had guys on base all night. We did a great job getting on base, but when it came time to put a ball in play with less than two outs or get a two-out hit we just couldn’t do it.”
The teams play the second game of the series Saturday at 2 p.m. LSU will start junior AJ Labas (3-1, 4.52 ERA) vs. Alabama junior Dylan Smith (1-6, 3.57 ERA).
In a combined 9.2 innings in his last two SEC starts against then-No. 1 Arkansas and Auburn, Labas has allowed 14 earned runs on 19 hits for a 13.03 ERA.
Mainieri said Thursday in a Zoom media teleconference he didn’t think Labas pitched poorly at Auburn, explaining the four home runs Labas allowed were “pop ups that barely got over the wall” in AU’s ballpark which is one of smallest in the league and not pitcher-friendly.