By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
HOUSTON — Alex Lange didn’t make it out of the second inning as No. 1 TCU defeated No. 2 LSU 9-6 in Friday’s nightcap of the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park.
Lange, razor sharp in his first two starts, didn’t have his usually reliable command. He recorded only five outs, the shortest outing of his career, and departed having been tagged for six earned runs, one shy of his career-high.
“It was just an off night for him,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “They’re battlers, and that’s why they have such a good team. And listen, everybody is entitled to an off night. Alex will be fine. He’ll be back strong next week, I’m sure. But it obviously got us off to a rough start.”
The LSU ace started every batter he faced with a first-pitch strike but couldn’t put hitters away. Lange issued three walks, all of which came around to score, and surrender long second-inning home runs to Austen Wade (three-run) and Luken Baker (two-run). The latter chased him from the game.
“Fastball command was terrible today,” a visibly frustrated Lange said. “It was absolutely horrendous. That’s what puts you in bad counts, and you can’t throw a breaking ball every pitch … I can’t go out there and go 1.2 (innings) and put 7.1 (innings) on the bullpen. That’s what really frustrates me, is that I set a tone for this weekend and we’re thin for the weekend now because they had to pick up my slack.”
LSU staked Lange to a 4-1 lead heading into the second thanks in large part to some good fortune.
Greg Deichmann looped an RBI single into shallow right-center field. Jake Slaughter plated two with a would-be double play ball that took a wicked hop off the lip of the infield grass. Jordan Romero, making his first start of the season, hammered an RBI double off the tall wall in left field.
TCU starter Brian Howard settled in after that rocky first, though. Setting aside Cole Freeman, who picked up three hits in the game’s first four innings, Howard set down the next 13 batters he faced after Romero’s double.
Meanwhile, Austin Bain came on in place of Lange and kept LSU in the game. He held the Horned Frogs to one run — the result of a two-out walk, a wild pitch, a stolen base and a bloop single — in 3.1 innings of relief.
TCU tacked on another run in the sixth against reliever Russell Reynolds. Elliott Brazilli singled to left on the 10th pitch of his at-bat, and Skoug singled through the right side on a 1-2 offering to bring him home just ahead of a strong throw from Deichmann.
Nine of TCU’s 12 hits came with two strikes. Five of its nine runs came with two outs. In contrast, LSU made six outs when swinging at the first pitch of a given at-bat.
“They just came out and responded a little bit better than us,” Freeman said. “They kind of a showed a little bit more maturity, especially later in the game. They had some big hits, some big pitches. Tonight I think they just got it done a little bit more than we did.”
LSU’s best chance to get back into the game came in the sixth inning. A single by Romero chased Howard from the game, and Freeman walked with two outs against reliever Charles King. However, King induced a weak ground ball to second base from Antoine Duplantis to end the inning.
LSU mounted a desperate rally in the ninth inning, aided by three fielding miscues from TCU. The Horned Frogs threw away two potential game-ending double plays and shortstop Ryan Merrill booted a hot smash that went down as an RBI single for Deichmann. However, it ended with the tying run on deck.
The Tigers will be back in action Saturday against Baylor. Jared Poche’ will take the ball and first pitch is set for 3:30 p.m.