An unseasonably chilly night, a stiff wind blowing in from left field and two strike-throwing, quick-working pitchers at the top of their respective games produced the rare treat that is a midweek pitching duel.
LSU came out on the right side of this one.
Freshman right-hander AJ Labas outdueled Louisiana Tech lefty David Leal over six mechanically-efficient innings as he and three relievers twirled a combined two-hitter. LSU got a pair of clutch knocks from Zach Watson and Antoine Duplantis to post a 2-0 win at Alex Box Stadium on Wednesday night.
“I’m not a smart man,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, “but I know if you don’t give up any runs your chances of winning are pretty good. If you shut them out, the worst you can do is tie. Labas was great.”
Labas simply filled up the strike zone on a night when it would be hard to imagine anyone launching a ball through the wind. He didn’t record a strikeout or issue a walk, needing just 63 pitches to breeze through six innings.
Perhaps the most intriguing moment of the game occurred when Labas received a somewhat quick hook and was replaced with embattling starter Caleb Gilbert, who worked a perfect seventh inning. He didn’t make it out of the first inning in his last start at Texas A&M.
Mainieri hinted at possible changes to the weekend rotation earlier this week, and part of that changing equation is now clear. Gilbert will continue to pitch out of the bullpen going forward.
“That’s the plan since this weekend,” Mainieri said. “We’re trying to get him back into a role that he’s been very successful in. We wanted to get him into the game tonight to flush what happened on Friday out of his mind, but he’s going to continue to pitch out of the bullpen for us.”
Lefty Nick Bush took over in his customary setup role and worked around a pair of two-out walks in the eighth inning. Austin Bain entered in the ninth and nailed down his third save of the year as the game wrapped up in under two hours.
Runs remain tough to come by for LSU (21-13), but the Tigers will take the win against a Louisiana Tech (24-11) squad that entered the game five spots better in the RPI than the hosts.
Labas faced one batter over the minimum in cruising through his six innings innings. He allowed a couple of singles in the early going, but one was erased on a crisp 6-4-3 double play. The defense as a whole was sharp behind him as he pitched to contact all night.
“I feel like normal again finally,” Labas said. “I felt like my mechanics were there, using my legs more and I wasn’t flying open as much. Today was back to where I was in the fall.”
Leal meanwhile retired the first nine Tigers in order with five strikeouts. LSU didn’t register a baserunner until Watson led off the fourth with a single to left, and that inning ended when Watson was doubled off second base after a diving catch by Louisiana Tech center fielder Parker Bates.
LSU finally broke through after Leal plunked Jake Slaughter to begin the sixth inning. The Tigers put the leadoff man aboard in three straight innings, but this time they cashed in.
Hal Hughes laid down a well-executed sacrifice bunt to move him into scoring position and Watson ripped a first-pitch fastball to left for an RBI single. Watson then stole second base and came home on a two-out single up the middle from Duplantis. Both ambushed first-pitch fastballs from the soft-tossing lefty.
LSU will have two days to prepare before hosting Tennessee on Friday night for the start of a three-game series. First pitch for the series opener is set for 7 p.m.