LSU baseball’s weekend went from disastrous on Friday to relief on Saturday to dismayed disappointment on Sunday.
Two throwing errors on one play in the eighth inning and relief pitching that was anything but relief saw lightly regarded Oral Roberts score all of runs in its final two at-bats for a 3-1 victory over the No. 8 ranked Tigers to win the non-conference weekend series at Alex Box Stadium.
Two lopsided affairs in the first two games in the series – a 22-7 Oral Roberts win followed by the Tigers’ 12-0 victory – evolved into a Sunday pitching duel.
“Getting blown out to blowing them out to having a 1-0 game going into the eighth inning,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, “you never know what kind of game it’s going to be on a given day.”
LSU was leading 1-0 when Sunday’s game flipped in the ORU eighth inning on two swings of the bat and a pair of off-target throws.
LSU freshman reliever Will Helmers retired the first two batters, then gave up a single to ORU third baseman Adam Oviedo who immediately scored on right fielder Caleb Denny’s double to the right field corner.
LSU right fielder Dylan Crews grabbed Denny’s hit and threw to Tigers’ second baseman Zach Arnold, who was the cutoff man. Arnold’s throw to home plate flew wildly past Tigers’ catcher Alex Milazzo as Denny continued on to third base. He briefly stopped just long enough for Hellmers, who had fielded Arnold’s wild throw, to fire the ball over the head of LSU third baseman Jordan Thompson and into left field as Denny scooted home with the go-ahead run.
The sun-splashed, socially distanced home crowd of 2,914 was absolutely stunned.
“We’re playing as deep as we can and he (Denny) just hooks one into the one place on the field he can get a double,” Mainieri said. “We didn’t execute the double cut-off well, obviously the throw (from Arnold) was errant. It was so errant we couldn’t even back it up.
“Then, the kid (Denny) goes to third base and Will tried to make the play and threw it into left field. We don’t want him to throw (to the base) with two outs and a runner in scoring position because it takes a base hit for them to lead. The last thing you want to do is give them a gift.
“The position players are taught that every day. The pitchers are very rarely in the position to understand that cardinal rule of baseball. It’s a teaching point today we had to learn the hard way.”
LSU had the tying and go-ahead runners on first and third with two outs in its half of the eighth. But Tigers’ freshman pinch-hitter Will Safford’s sizzling grounder was backhanded by ORU shortstop Anthony Martinez, who gunned a perfect throw to ORU first baseman Jake McMurray for the third out.
It was Martinez who scored an insurance run in the ninth off LSU senior Devin Fontenot, the Tigers’ top closer.
Fontenot gave up a two-out RBI single to ORU second baseman Ryan Cash after he had hit Martinez to put him on first base. Then, Fontenot was called for a balk that put Martinez at second when Fontenot’s cleats got caught in the mound dirt and he stopped his throwing motion as he stumbled off-balance.
Martinez advanced to third on ORU center fielder Joshua Cox’s fly out to centerfield and scored when Cash sent Fontenot’s 2-2 pitch into left field.
LSU was retired in order in its half of the ninth by Braden Pierce, ORU’s fourth reliever of the day.
Oral Roberts (4-7) came to Baton Rouge with a 2-6 record, a .223 team batting average and 4.93 earned run average facing an LSU team that had won seven straight games in which it had hit .317 with 19 home runs and allowed opponents to hit just .218.
The Golden Eagles headed home to Tulsa batting .289 against LSU pitching and holding the Tigers to a mere four extra base hits and no home runs in the series after LSU (8-3) entered the weekend with a nation-leading 21 homers.
Both starting pitchers Tanner Rogen of ORU and AJ Labas were not involved in the decision, but both pitched superbly. Both went six innings each and both allowed five hits while Rogen struck out seven and Labas fanned six.
Labas didn’t allow a run while Rogen gave up a fourth inning run to the Tigers when Thompson’s two-out RBI single scored Arnold who had singled.
As it turned out, it was LSU’s only offense as the Tigers wasted Labas’ best pitching performance of the young season.
“I feel like I pitched pretty good,” Labas said. “I commanded my fastball on both sides of the plate inside and outside. Then, I had a real good feel for my change-up and keeping the hitters off balance.”
LSU has six more non-conference games, five this week, before it begins its SEC schedule with a three-game home series vs. Mississippi State on March 19-21.
The Tigers play home Tuesday vs. Texas Southern, then Wednesday at the University of New Orleans before and a game at home Saturday vs. Baylor sandwiched around Friday and Sunday home games against Texas-San Antonio.