By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
In all likelihood Alan Dunn has never played “MLB The Show” on PlayStation.
Still, calling pitches for Eric Walker on Sunday night must’ve felt like something out of a video game. Every sequence the coach called for, relayed by LSU catcher Mike Papierski, the freshman promptly reared back and hit the glove in rhythm.
Walker fired eight-plus brilliant innings to blank Rice, 5-0, and wrap up a Baton Rouge Regional championship for LSU. It was a master class in pinpoint control that left the long-time pitching coach gushing.
The right hander threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 35 batters he faced. An amazing 77 of his 98 pitches were strikes, including 26 of his first 30. He didn’t face a single three-ball count, much less walk a batter. At one point he threw 21 out of 22 changeups for strikes.
“That’s one for the ages right there,” Dunn grinned. “A young freshman kid with the place jacked — there’s not enough words for me to describe what that performance was.”
If somebody held a coffee mug at knee height on the outside corner of the plate, Walker would’ve dotted the bottom with an 88 mph heater. It conjured shades of the great Aaron Nola, a comparison Paul Mainieri isn’t often willing to make.
Here’s the truly insane part: Walker might not have even been the best of the Tiger freshmen this weekend.
Talk about serious competition.
Center fielder Zach Watson mashed two home runs in each of the first two wins, driving in seven runs and scoring five in the process.
Third baseman Josh Smith opened the scoring Sunday with an RBI double and finished the regional 5-for-9 with a home run, four RBI and six runs scored.
Setup man Zack Hess fired two strong innings Saturday and took over for Walker in the ninth Sunday, striking out the side to leave the bases loaded and preserve the shutout.
Even Jake Slaughter, pressed into duty by an injury to Nick Coomes, stepped up and contributed. He delivered a clutch two-out single Sunday to cap LSU’s three-run second inning.
“These guys aren’t freshmen anymore,” shortstop Kramer Robertson said. “They’re veterans now. One day they’ll be sitting here leading the way just like I am, and they’ll be filling the shoes. One day they’ll be showing the freshmen the ways in a couple years.”
“The biggest thing we preach is do your job,” second baseman Cole Freeman added. “Do your job, step up and don’t let the situation get too big. That’s what everybody is doing right now. If we keep doing that, we’ll be fine.”
Thanks in part to the contributions of those freshmen, LSU finds itself right back where it was at the end of last season. Set to host a super regional with just two wins standing between them and a trip to Omaha.
Those four weren’t a part of the club that fell to Coastal Carolina last June. They don’t carry that same burning desire for redemption that drives Robertson, Freeman and the rest of the veterans who came back for one more ride.
But if they keep playing like this, they could very well make the difference that gets the Tigers over the hump this time around.