Late-game heroics lifts Tigers to wild win on Opening Night
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
LSU’s young, inexperienced lineup had a dramatic comeback in its bones on Opening Night.
Actually, they had two.
Down to their final out in both the ninth and tenth innings, the Tigers — with help from a Cincinnati bullpen that lost the strike zone in the later frame — twice rallied to extend the game before Jordan Romero blooped a walk-off single into shallow right field to lift LSU (1-0) to a 6-5 victory over Cincinnati (0-1) in a 12-inning marathon at Alex Box Stadium on Friday night.
“Wow, what a ball game,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri began. “Obviously I’m really proud of our team because we came from behind a couple of times to tie the game when all looked bleak.”
“It just shows that, although we’re a young team, we’re still going to come out to play everyday.” freshman outfielder Antoine Duplantis said. “We’re going to make plays and we’re going to find ways to win.”
Romero wouldn’t have had the chance if not for some some of his own theatrics three innings earlier.
“Wow, what a ball game.” – LSU coach Paul Mainieri
Trailing 3-2 in the ninth, Romero pinch hit — the first at-bar of his Tiger career — with two outs and the Catholic High product lined a first-pitch fastball back through the box for a game-tying RBI single. His double heroics off the bench saved LSU from suffering its first opening-night loss since 2001.
“I sat there the whole time staying locked into the game and I finally got the call to go up,” Romero said, his face still covered with the remnants of a celebratory shaving cream pie from Alex Lange. “Being from Baton Rouge — a hometown guy — I grew up watching guys do that, and it was pretty awesome to come up and get to do it myself.”
Things started to get weird in extra innings.
The Bearcats were able to capitalize on uncharacteristic wildness from relievers Hunter Newman and Parker Bugg to push a pair of runs across in the tenth.
Again down to their last out, LSU got an RBI single from freshman Brody Wofford to cut the deficit to 5-4 before successive hit-by-pitches sandwiched around a walk brought home the tying run. Cole Freeman took let an inside breaking ball hit him to bring home the equalizer.
Long before any such drama, Jared Poche’ cruised through the Cincinnati lineup with relative ease for six innings. He returned for the seventh having allowed just an unearned run and retired the last 15 men he faced.
It was in that seventh frame, however, that the veteran lefty ran into trouble.
The Bearcats loaded the bases with one out before lefty-swinging Treg Haberkorn smoked a two-run double to the base of the wall in left-center to break a 1-1 tie. The blow would have proved decisive had the young lineup not staged its late comeback.
“I felt good,” Poche’ said. “I had all my pitches working today. Everything was good, and then in that last inning I put myself in a hole. Got into some bad counts and they took advantage of them.”
The Tigers wouldn’t have been in position to pull this game out of the fire if it wasn’t for contributions from a host of newcomers. Duplantis knotted the game at 1-1 with an RBI single to right field in the fourth and kept the game tied by gunning down a runner at the plate with a strong throw from right in the seventh.
Freshman shortstop Trey Dawson nailed another runner with a strong rely to the plate later in that same inning. O’Neal Lochridge, yet another rookie, entered as a defensive replacement only to single and score the winning run.
“We had our backs against the wall and somehow we found a way,” Mainieris said. “We’ll take the victory. It was a hard-fought win. I’m really proud of the guys. Now we need to sleep fast because we play early tomorrow.”
– Despite missing practice the past two days due to a case of pink eye, true freshman Trey Dawson started at shortstop and played a clean game defensively in his LSU debut. He made a nifty bare-handed play in sixth inning and gunned down a runner at the plate from shallow right on Haberkorn’s two-run double. He finished 0-for-3 at the plate with a strikeout.
Game 2 (Saturday at 2 p.m.)
LSU –So. RHP Alex Lange (12-0, 1.97 ERA, 114.0 IP, 46 BB, 131 SO in 2015)
UC – TBA
Game 3 (Sunday at 12 p.m.)
LSU – Sr. LHP Jon Valek III (6-6, 3.25 ERA, 99.2 IP, 26 BB, 62 SO in 2015 at the University of Akron)
UC – TBA