With the tying run at the plate in the ninth inning Saturday, Todd Peterson inherited a 2-0 count on dangerous Arkansas outfielder Dominic Fletcher.
Peterson managed to retire Fletcher on a fly ball to shallow right field, but he caught a glimpse of the radar gun on the scoreboard before re-focusing on the two outs he still needed to get.
“I saw the 92 (miles per hour) and thought we’ve got to get things going here,” Peterson said. “Kind of amped up a little bit and just let it rip from there.”
Let it rip he did. Peterson, pumping 95-96 mph heaters, blew away Razorback sluggers Casey Martin and Heston Kjerstad to nail down the save. His efforts allowed LSU to even the series before taking Sunday’s rubber match for a series victory it desperately needed.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri wasn’t sure how sharp Peterson would be when he brought him into the difficult situation because he’d already gotten warm and sat down three times due to a chaotic nature of the game.
Peterson answered that question quickly as the usually-nonchalant hurler rode a wave of adrenaline through the heart of the power-laden Arkansas order.
“Up and down, up and down. It’s just part of the reliever life,” Peterson laughed. “I think that’s something that I’ve recently bought into, becoming a reliever and just going out there and letting it rip.”
It’s been a largely inconsistent sophomore season for the big right-hander after starting the year in the weekend rotation.
LSU hasn’t been able to find a role that he thrives in to this point, but with his new let-it-rip approach to relieving, Peterson brings an element of velocity that the LSU bullpen hasn’t had since Zack Hess was moved to the starting rotation before the season started.
“It started last weekend at Ole Miss,” Mainieri said. “For an inning or two, he is really good. But even his starts were that way. He never gave up runs in the first inning. He doesn’t have an outstanding breaking ball or changeup, and that’s what happens, but for one inning he can come in, throw some gas and show them a little breaking ball to keep them off balance. He can be a one-inning guy for you.
“He was blowing gas.”
HELP ON THE WAY
Speaking of flame-throwing right-handers, LSU expects Nick Storz to make his return to action on Wednesday against McNeese State.
Storz “felt great” after throwing a simulated game on Saturday afternoon, Mainieri said, and provided there’s no setbacks between now and Wednesday, the plan is for him to pitch in the midweek and potentially start the game.
“He wasn’t great but he felt great,” the coach said. “He’ll pitch on Wednesday as long as there’s no setbacks in the next couple of days.”
Mainieri wasn’t sure who’ll start against the in-state foe. Midweek starter AJ Labas went six innings to get the win in Sunday’s rubber match against Arkansas and won’t be available until next weekend.
Zach Watson went 3-for-4 with a pair of clutch run-scoring singles in Sunday’s 7-5 victory over Arkansas, but an otherwise outstanding day was marred by a base-running blunder.
Watson was on first base after his RBI single in the seventh inning. He broke to steal second base as Hunter Feduccia hit a ground ball to the right side with one out in the frame.
Both runners would’ve been safe as Arkansas booted the ball, but Watson turned around after reaching second base and sprinted back toward first before being tagged out.
“I know what happened,” Mainieri explained. “He was stealing and thought it was a line drive caught by the first baseman instead of a chopper. Still, it’s inexcusable to walk off the base. What are you going to do, beat the first baseman to the base? You stand there and ask the umpire ‘Am I out?’ or look at the third base coach.”
The coach continued: “Kids make mistakes. If they were robots they wouldn’t make mistakes, but they make them and you have to learn from it. I’m sure Zach Watson will learn from that situation and I’m sure it won’t happen again.”
AJ Labas’ first Southeastern Conference start was already a revelation for LSU. Now he’s got some hardware to remember it by.
The right-hander was named SEC Freshman of the Week after holding the highest-scoring offense in the league to one run over six splendid innings to win a rubber match. Labas allowed four hits and didn’t issue a walk while striking out three.
Mainieri has expressed bewilderment in recent weeks about LSU’s lackluster RPI, and the most recent set of data isn’t likely to change that.
LSU took two games from an Arkansas club that began the week at No. 5, but that only moved LSU up four spots from No. 53 on Friday morning to No. 49 on Monday.
“That RPI, can you believe we won last night and didn’t move a bit?” Mainieri said after Sunday’s win. “I don’t know. I can’t figure it out that thing. But it’s out of my control. There’s no use worrying about those kind of things that we can’t have any control over.”
Instead Mainieri wants to keep his team focused on a goal that’s much easier to wrap one’s mind around: chasing Arkansas for the top spot in the SEC West.
LSU (28-20, 12-12 SEC) heads into the final two weekends of the regular season in a tie for fourth place and two games behind the Hogs. LSU would be the No. 8 seed in the SEC Tournament if the season ended today.
“We’re still going to take a run as the western division title,” Mainieri said. “That’s what we’re shooting for. We’re within striking distance again. I think we’re two games out. These guys have two tough series remaining … Who knows, maybe we’re going to save our best baseball for last.”
LSU (STILL NOT) IN THE POLLS
The Tigers remain unranked in all four of the major polls despite winning a weekend series against a consensus top-10 team in Arkansas. It appears the disastrous two-week stretch that dropped LSU from potential regional host to bubble team will take more than a good weekend to overcome.
LSU has now been unranked for three consecutive weeks after a run of 124 weeks in which it found itself in the top 25 of at least one of the four polls.