Tigers pound out 14 hits to take rubber match
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Conventional baseball wisdom says a soft-tossing lefty with an 85 mph fastball doesn’t have the requisite stuff to dominate an opposing lineup.
John Valek III didn’t get the memo.
“I enjoy the way I throw,” Valek said. “I mean, if it works, why change it?”
The senior southpaw allowed just one hit and faced the minimum number of batters through six brilliant innings before allowing a run in the seventh en route to his second Sunday victory in as many weeks.
“He was just tremendous,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He pounded that strike zone. He kept them off balance. He really had that changeup going. When I saw the forecast for today with the winds gailing out at 14 mph, I’m thinking soft thrower, wind blowing out and a pretty aggressive hitting team, that isn’t a good recipe for us.But he completely stymied them.”
Beau Jordan delivered the big blow with a bases-clearing double as part of a five-run third inning, Kramer Robertson and Cole Freeman scored three runs apiece and LSU (5-2) pounded out 14 hits to cruise past Sacramento State (4-3) 11-1 in Sunday’s rubber match on a picturesque spring afternoon at Alex Box Stadium.
One day after lamenting opportunities lost in a 5-4 defeat, Mainieri expressed elation at the sight of seeing his club go 5-for-9 with runners in scoring position Sunday to build an early lead into a rout.
“When you have them down, you have to finish them off in terms of the game,” Mainieri said. “When you give another team hope, hope is a wonderful thing and you keep fighting. When you continue to tack on runs it discourages the other team and consequently the end doesn’t come down to one play.”
Valek (2-0) retired the first 12 of the first 13 men he faced — the lone baserunner reached on a Robertson error only to be caught stealing one pitch later — and didn’t allow a hit until the fifth. He needed just 50 pitches to work through the first five frames.
He was aggressive and precise locating his mid-80s fastball and kept the Hornets’ free-swinging lineup off balance with a mixture of his sweeping hook and that changeup.
“I was a lot more comfortable this week than obviously last week,” Valek said. “Big-time jitters last week with the crowd and all that. Just a little bit emotional. I knew going into this week that I could calm down. I knew what to expect.”
Valek struck out the side in the top half of the third inning before LSU batted around for five runs in the ensuing frame. He completed his second consecutive walk-free outing and struck out six in seven innings of four-hit ball.
“When people look at John and his (velocity), they think he’s not going to strike that many people out,” Beau Jordan said. “Dude’s a gamer, man. Glad he’s here and I’m glad he’s my teammate. He pounds the strike zone and he puts it where he wants it.”
Center feidler Jake Fraley (3-for-4, 1 BB), moved into the two hole by Mainieri ‘to relieve some of the pressure’, got the Tigers on the board with an RBI single. A walk to Antoine Duplantis loaded the bases and Jordan followed with the three-run double to the gap. Bryce, his twin brother, than plated him with an RBI single of his own.
Staked to a lead, Valek retied the side in order over the next three innings as LSU tacked on a run in the fifth on an RBI single from Greg Deichmann and two more in the sixth. Freeman singled, stole two bases and scored the first on a throwing error and Duplantis brought the eighth run home with an RBI single.
“After we were up 5-0, we’ve been in that position a couple of times and lost the game,” Mainieri said. “That was when I felt we just needed to keep our intensity up throughout the rest of the game, and I think the guys responded to that.”
LSU will be back in action Wednesday night with sophomore right-hander Austin Bain scheduled to get the start on the road against Nicholls State.