LAFAYETTE, La. — It’s so often the little things that determine who wins and loses a baseball game, particularly a back-and-forth contest that winds up requiring extra innings to determine a victor.
LSU did a lot to be proud of in its second venture out on the road. The Tigers got outstanding pitching throughout the game and a clutch two-out, two-run double from Austin Bain coming off the bench in the ninth inning to force extras in the first place.
But it was the things the Tigers didn’t do — defensive indecision in critical moments, dropped throws and an offense that went missing in action for about eight innings — that made the difference as UL-Lafayette won 4-3 on a walk-off single from Jonathan Windham in the bottom of the 10th inning at the newly-renovated Tigue Moore Field on Wednesday night.
“Our pitchers were just awesome,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, “but I feel like we just didn’t help them much tonight. I don’t just mean lack of offense. I thought that was one of the poorest defensive games we’ve played in a long, long time. We just didn’t look confident out there, and it’s something we’ve got to work on … Too many little things.”
“We’ve got to play better baseball,” Beau Jordan added. “We played terrible baseball out there … We played scared. We played very scared and you can’t win baseball games like that.”
Bain, whose pinch hit double kept LSU alive, took over on the mound and worked a clean ninth inning. He returned in the tenth and a leadoff single got the wheels in motion. A sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk followed.
LSU met on the mound with two on and two outs, deciding to essentially pitch around Cajun shortstop Hayden Cantrelle. He wound up walking him to load the bases for Windham, who at that point was 1-for-22 on the season and 0-for-4 on the night.
Windham dunked a single just in front of Zach Watson in center field to chase home the winning run and set off an eruption at the jam-packed and well-lubricated Tigue.
“We were pitching (Cantrelle) aggressively on the outsides,” Bain said. “The other guy just came in and did the job.”
Long before that, LSU seemed primed to take a 1-0 pitcher’s duel. The Tigers scored in the top of the first inning and held that 1-0 lead until the bottom of the eighth inning. That’s when some baseball luck brought the crowd and the Cajuns to life.
UL-Lafayette scored the tying and go-ahead runs on a suicide squeeze play perfectly executed by Cajun cleanup hitter Hunter Kasuls against Nick Bush. A bloop hit to right and a bunt single ignited the rally, and the Cajuns tacked on another insurance run for good measure.
That play seemed to irk the defensively-minded LSU coach more than anything else. The second run scored because Bush, a lefty, fielded the ball with his back to third base instead of first baseman Bryce Jordan charging it.
“Our first baseman should’ve fielded the ball,” Mainieri said. “That’s where it all started. Our first baseman should’ve fielded the ball and got the out at first base. Credit to them. It was an aggressive play by them and they executed it well. You don’t often see a four-hole hitter bunt. It caught us a little by surprise.”
Long before the drama, LSU got a splendid outing from AJ Labas, who is already making a serious bid to be LSU’s new resident Houdini.
Making his second career start — and first in a hostile environment — the freshman stranded men on the corners in the first inning before loading the bases with nobody out in the second. He proceeded to strike out the next three hitters and get out of trouble unscathed. He bailed out shortstop Hal Hughes, who dropped a throw on a double play ball to get the rally going.
“I thought he was tremendous again,” Mainieri said. “The only reason we were in that jam is we dropped a throw and couldn’t catch a line drive, so he was in a difficult situation and struck out the side. He threw nothing but strikes tonight. I just think he’s got a bright future for us, but we’ve got to play good defense behind him.”
LSU struck first with some two-out thunder in the first. After two quick outs, Lafayette native Antoine Duplantis smoked a ground-rule double to right. Beau Jordan then came through with an RBI single to center off lefty Colten Schmidt, who was outstanding from there. LSU didn’t score against him again in eight innings of five-hit ball.
Labas worked into and out of trouble in the first and second innings, pounding the strike zone and using his changeup to keep the Cajuns off balance. All three of his strikeouts came on that pitch. Labas scattered four hits and threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of the 14 batters he faced.
That was the bright spot, but it felt like a distant memory after the back and forth drama and followed.
“We have to learn to win these kind of games,” Mainieri said. “We’re going to play a lot of close games in a lot of tough environments, and we’ve got to find a way to win them.”
LSU will host Hawaii for three games at Alex Box Stadium starting on Friday night in its final series of the pre-conference slate before Southeastern Conference play begins next week.
– Catcher Nick Coomes didn’t make the trip to Lafayette and will likely miss the rest of this week after being diagnosed with a concussion.