CORVALLIS, Ore. — There’s not another lineup shakeup forthcoming, but at least for one afternoon, LSU found a new unconventional leadoff man to provide a spark for the offense from the middle of the order.
Catcher Nick Coomes led off three separate innings with sharp singles, scored a pair of runs and even stole a base as part of a 3-for-4 afternoon.
His base hits to begin the second and sixth innings sparked LSU to two different three-run rallies as the Tigers topped San Diego State 6-4 in the opening game of the Corvallis Regional at Goss Stadium on Friday afternoon.
“Nick has been playing great over these last few weeks,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “His at-bats are quality. He’s hustling behind the plate. He’s just been a great leader. Hitting in that No. 5 spot behind (Daniel) Cabrera and swinging the bat like that, I think it protects Cabrera.
“It’s making a big difference for our team.”
Coomes has seen more and more playing time behind the plate dating back to the stretch run of the regular season. The senior has been a difference maker at times, and he played big Friday in a game when LSU didn’t swing the bats overly well as a whole.
It began with an opposite-field bullet to lead off the second inning. Coomes wound up stealing third on a hit-and-run gone array before scoring on a ground ball to the right side off the bat of Hal Hughes.
Coomes led off the fourth inning with a single as well, but it was his knock to begin the sixth on an 0-2 offering from San Diego State lefty Jacob Erickson that sparked the critical inning. He came around to score the go-ahead run on Jake Slaughter’s two-out single.
“My confidence is high right now, and hopefully it can stay that way,” Coomes said.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX?
The game was briefly halted in the top of the eighth inning as Mainieri came out to say something to the home plate umpire.
Two umpires converged, and after a brief conversation, they ordered the San Diego State first base coach to stand closer to the painted coach’s box. He was practically standing on the outfield grass in right field before Mainieri came out and complained.
The coach confirmed after the game that LSU suspected the first base coach was stealing signs — either from Coomes or out of the pitcher’s glove — and relaying them to the hitter through body language.
“We thought he was stealing the pitches,” Mainieri said. “He was so far down he could get a good look at where Devin (Fontenot) was setting up. I don’t know what he was reading, but we saw some different body languages that made us think he was signaling the pitches to his hitters.”
Mainieri continued: “I’m not one to be picky about things, but the coach’s boxes are there for a reason. He was pretty far down there, so I thought he was getting an unfair advantage of being able to look at our pitcher’s set position. That’s the only reason I brought it up. I’m not picky on stuff like that.”
It’s not easy to follow up a legendary performance, but Todd Peterson did the job just fine in his first opportunity since the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Peterson inherited a 6-4 lead and nailed down the save with a 1-2-3 inning that included a strikeout on Friday afternoon.
“It’s gotten to the point now where everybody has such confidence in him,” Mainieri said. “It felt great that he went three up, three down. I think that was just a nice little warm up for Todd. Now, if he gets other opportunities, he’ll feel relaxed out there.”
Luckily for LSU, Peterson managed to do the job economically as well as effectively. He threw only 14 pitches to get the final three outs, which means he should have no problem being available to pitch if needed in the proverbial marble game on Saturday night.
With the exception of starter Nick Bush and Fontenot, who threw three innings in relief Friday, LSU should have its entire staff available for a potential College World Series rematch with hosts Oregon State. Cam Sanders warmed up once Friday but did not enter the game.