One well-hit ball that skittered into an open corner of the field, one rocket grounder that found a shortstop’s glove and two ill-timed throws represented the fine line No. 15 LSU walked in losing its weekend three-game series with Oral Roberts.
“The difference between winning and losing yesterday was so small,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said Monday of ORU’s 3-1 victory Sunday afternoon that gave the visitors the series. “We could have easily won that game and we would be sitting back saying, ‘Wasn’t it great we came from losing that lousy game on Friday and winning the series?’ Nobody would be questioning where we are right now.”
Instead of being able to enjoy a series victory, especially after the way it began with a 22-7 shellacking Friday that halted a seven-game win streak, LSU (9-3) must turn its attention to this week’s schedule of five games before the Tigers open Southeastern Conference play at home against Mississippi State on March 19-21.
The Tigers host Texas Southern (3-9) on Tuesday at 6:30, travel to the University of New Orleans (5-6) at 6:30 Wednesday before returning to host Texas-San Antonio Friday and Sunday at 7 and 1 p.m., respectively, along with Baylor at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Freshman left-hander Javen Coleman (1-0, 4.26 ERA) is the Tuesday scheduled starter for the Tigers vs. TSU and fellow freshman Will Hellmers (2-1, 1.86) will get the start in his hometown Wednesday against UNO.
“There’s a lot of things we need to do to improve to get back on track and be competitive in the SEC,” Mainieri said. “That’s no different than every year. We’re only 12 games into the season and you learn a lot about your team as the season wears on. I’m certainly learning a lot about our team and there will need to be some changes.”
The first order of business Mainieri said was the potential return of starting second baseman Cade Doughty for the Texas Southern game. The Denham Springs native was batting .321 with a pair of homers and 10 RBIs and had not committed an error in 27 chances in the field, when he suffered a shoulder injury Feb. 27 in a home run celebration in LSU’s 14-0 win over Nicholls. He missed the last five games.
Depending on the results of Monday’s workout in the batting cases and taking ground balls on the infield, Mainieri said he may be able to write Doughty’s name on his lineup card once again.
“Once he gets back in there, it’s going to make a big difference for us,” Mainieri said.
Mainieri said the importance of getting Doughty back is two-fold. It would give LSU a sorely needed right-handed hitter in the top half of its batting order, while helping to stabilize the infield which was guilty of four of the Tigers’ five errors against Oral Roberts.
“You put Cade in the lineup, it gives you better balance throughout your lineup,” Mainieri said. “It’s amazing one guy can make that much of a difference. But it just allows you to do different things.”
Mainieri also hinted there could be additional changes coming in the infield. He wanted to wait for the completion of practice to assess any potential moves and then address them first with his players before a public announcement.
Should Doughty be able to resume his starting spot at second base, that would free up Zach Arnold to move back to shortstop where he previously started. Arnold, a .341 hitter, committed two errors in Doughty’s absence over the weekend while Drew Bianco, Doughty’s replacement at shortstop, struggled at the plate going 2 of 16 with 3 RBIs and 7 strikeouts.
After a split of the first two games that were the complete antithesis of one another — LSU answered with a 12-0 shutout Saturday – the series finale turned into a pitchers’ duel when the Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on Arnold’s RBI-single.
Starter A.J. Labas pitched 6 scoreless innings, allowed 5 hits, struck out 6 and walked none, following the lead of LSU’s Saturday starter Landon Marceaux.
“Two of our three starting pitchers shut out the opponent for the time they were in the game,” Mainieri said. “Both starting pitchers had six shutout innings and that was a positive thing.”
Hellmers took over for Garrett Edwards in the eighth inning and promptly retired the first two batters he faced until disaster struck. He allowed consecutive hits with a single and double, the latter a run-producing hit from Caleb Denney to the right-field corner.
On a play to the plate Arnold, who took in Dylan Crews’ relay, threw past catcher Alex Milazzo to allow the first run to score and in his haste to try and nab Denny at third base Hellmers, who was backing up the plate, had his throw sail into left field and the go-ahead run scored.
LSU had runners at first and third bases with two outs and appeared it may score the tying run in the eighth when pinch-hitter Mitchell Sanford’s hot smash was backhanded by ORU shortstop Anthony Martinez, who threw him out to end the threat.
ORU added a two-out RBI-single in the ninth, while LSU was retired in order.
“These kids will be very resilient,” Mainieri said. “I’m glad we’re getting back on the field tomorrow and playing a team again. I’m glad we have a five-game week again and put this in the rear-view mirror as quick as we can and hopefully, we’ll get better.”