By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
METAIRIE — Sometimes a change of scenery makes all of the difference.
Coming off a cold, frustrating weekend offensively, LSU got hits in five of its first seven at-bats with runners in scoring position to build an early lead against Louisiana-Lafayette.
The Tigers finished 6-for-12 in those clutch situations to take a back-and-fourth contest from the Cajuns, 8-5, in front of a packed house at Zephyr Field on a picturesque night for baseball at the 13th annual Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic.
“It felt good, especially when we got those first two-out hits,” shortstop Kramer Robertson said. “I said last week hitting is contagious. With two outs, it’s important for your veterans to step, and I though Jake (Fraley) and I did that tonight.”
LSU went to work in the third against Cajuns starter Evan Guillory. With a man on second and two outs, Robertson and Fraley lined back-to-back RBI doubles to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.
The Tigers loaded the bases in the fourth thanks to two singles sandwiched around one of four UL-Lafayette errors. Bryce Jordan, who began the inning with an infield single, scored on a wild pitch. Cole Freeman followed with a two-out, two-run single to extend the lead to 5-1.
“I just thought the guys had a lot of tremendous at-bats tonight,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
That lead would be short lived, thought. The Cajuns stormed back with four runs in the top of the fifth, tying the game on right fielder Steven Sensley’s three-run home run to right off reliever Russell Reynolds.
Robertson led off the ensuing frame with a double to left field and Fraley plated him with a double for the second time in as many at-bats. Antoine Duplantis, who saw his career-length hitting streak end, advanced Fraley to third and Beau Jordan lifted a ball to deep right to drive him in.
Another error extended the inning and Greg Deichmann added a two-out RBI single to make the lead 8-5. LSU scored five of its eight runs with two outs.
“We had to keep our foot on the gas and we punched back a little bit,” Fraley said. “It was huge for us to come back and put another guy in scoring position and get another hit to bring him in. Just string them all together.”
Even without the services of closer Caleb Gilbert, the LSU ‘’bridge” recorded the final 12 outs in order to put the victory on ice.
Alden Cartwright retired all four men he faced, striking out the final three. Parker Bugg came on and got two quick outs to end the seventh. Hunter Newman and Jesse Stallings divided up the final two frames with the earning his first save of the season.
“We got a lot done tonight,” Mainieri said. “I thought we pitched well.”
McKAY IMPRESSES IN FIRST START
Cole McKay’s first pitch of the night zipped by Louisiana-Lafayette leadoff man Stefan Trosclair at a crisp 93 mph.
His last — a 90 mph heater running in on the hands of No. 9 hitter Alex Pinero — netted the big Texan rookie his fifth strikeout in nine batters and induced an excited fist pump from the flame-throwing Texas.
“Velo has been getting back up there,” McKay said. “Thank the lord it did, because it was down for a while. It felt good tonight. All off-speed pitches and fastballs were.”
Tapped to lead the Jack Wholestaff-style effort, McKay struck out five through two innings of work. He allowed an earned run on a walk and two singles, but his repertoire of a fastball that sat 91-92 mph, a swing-and-miss curveball and a straight changeup were all working.
“It took all those pitches to get the strikeouts that I needed,” McKay said. “All of them worked off the fastball pretty well.”
Impressed with his rookie’s outing, Mainieri now considers McKay someone who could help out of the bullpen. However, since he threw 41 pitches, Mainieri ruled him out for the first two games of the Texas A&M series.