LSU has lost its opening weekend series for the first time since 1999, and frankly, it easily could’ve been a sweep.
The Tigers jumped out to an early lead but promptly gave it back as the pitching staff continued to struggle. Notre Dame slugger Eric Gilgenbach drove in seven runs with a pair of home runs and the Irish outplayed their hosts defensively to hammer LSU 11-3 in a rubber match at Alex Box Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
“This whole weekend we were totally outclassed,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “They came down here and took it to us. Conversely, it’s hard for me to find a lot of positive things we did the whole weekend. We’ve obviously got a lot of work to do.”
Todd Peterson held the Irish off the scoreboard for three innings, long enough for LSU to score first for the first time this weekend, but neither that 1-0 lead nor his outing lasted long after that.
Peterson issued two walks in in a span of three batters to begin the fourth inning, and after a mound visit from LSU pitching Alan Dunn, Gilgenbach took Peterson deep to right-center field for a three-run homer, his second of the weekend at the time.
The sophomore was hooked after four innings as he battled his command. Credit the defense for limiting the damage to three runs considering Peterson allowed four hits and issued four walks. Only 25 of his 58 pitches found the strike zone.
His struggles complete what was an all-around brutal weekend for LSU’s new rotation. The trio of Caleb Gilbert, Zack Hess and Peterson were charged with 16 earned runs in a combined 10.2 innings of work, which equates to an unsightly ERA of 13.50.
LSU cut the deficit to a run in the fifth, Notre Dame got to the LSU bullpen for three more runs in the sixth. It’s the first time since 1953 that LSU has allowed six-or-more runs in each of the first three games of a given season.
Strike throwing was at the heart of the struggles. The staff as a whole issued 12 free passes on Sunday (eight walks and four hit by pitches), five of which came around to score. LSU handed out 16 walks and hit nine batters for the series as a whole.
“It’s not something that caught me off guard because that’s the way it’s been in practice,” Mainieri said. “We’ve just given up way too many free passes … They didn’t need it, because they certainly played great, but we gave them an awful lot of free gifts. We have to throw the ball over the plate. There’s no defense for a base on balls.”
What did surprise the coach was how unproductive his lineup was outside of the Jordan brothers. Bryce singled to begin the third, helping LSU build its first run. Beau doubled in the fifth and launched a monster solo home run, his second of the weekend, in the seventh.
There were other chances to pull even, but LSU couldn’t come up with the requisite clutch hits. Trailing by two, LSU has the bases loaded with nobody out and the 2-3-4 spots in the order coming up in fifth inning, but managed to score only one run.
The Tigers finished the afternoon 1-for-12 with men on base, 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and 0-of-9 with two out.
Notre Dame put an exclamation mark on an ultra-impressive weekend in the top of the ninth against Nick Bush. The Irish loaded the bases with two outs and Gilgenbach cranked a grand slam off the jumbotron in left, ending any faint thoughts of a late rally by the home team.
“I told everybody that LSU has a legacy to uphold,” Beau Jordan said, “and weekends like this, that’s not LSU legacy. I’ve been a part of three really good teams, and this weekend, it wasn’t fun.”
LSU will have a couple days to regroup and possibly get catcher Hunter Feduccia healthy before hosting UNO for a midweek game on Wednesday night. Right-hander Cam Sanders is slated to start for the Tigers.