Daniel Cabrera has come through with dramatic hits to put LSU ahead in the ninth inning of each of the past two games.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, only one of those games were played at Alex Box Stadium. So while Sunday’s walk-off blast finished Tennessee, Tulane got an opportunity to turn the tables Wednesday night and come right back with three runs of their own to win 10-9 in New Orleans.
“You’ve got to be better than the other team on the road because they get to bat last,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said after the loss. “As we witnessed at home Sunday and on the road today, the other team gets to bat in the bottom of the ninth. You’ve got to get 27 outs in order to win.”
Losing to Tulane on a walk-off walk isn’t the way LSU (24-14, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) hoped to begin a stretch during which it’ll play seven of eight games on the road, but they’ll have to quickly put it behind them as the Tigers depart to begin a three-game series at South Carolina (20-17, 6-9 SEC).
The plan to do so seems quite simple: internalize the positives from Wednesday’s comeback and turn the page to a critical series in a venue that’s been kind to the Tigers in recent years. LSU has taken two out of three in all three series its play in Columbia under Mainieri with trips in 2015, 2012 and 2009.
“We’re just trying to keep doing what we’re doing because we’re right there,” outfielder Antoine Duplantis said. “We’re playing well. We played a pretty good game yesterday, I thought. We just couldn’t finish it off. Just treat it like everything else and embrace the road.”
“It shouldn’t have lasting impact on our team’s morale or confidence,” Mainieri added. “We’ve always played well at South Carolina.”
Closing out games has seemed to be the bugaboo on the road so far this season. LSU is 2-8 in games played outside the friendly confines of the Box this season, and seven of the eight losses have come by two runs or fewer.
LSU has pitched solidly away from home, Wednesday night notwithstanding. LSU is only allowing 4.4 runs per game in those 10 contests and have only surrendered five-or-more runs three times.
Scoring runs in tight ball games has been the issue. LSU has only scored four-or-more runs away from home four times and has been held to two runs or fewer in half of the 10 games. LSU is averaging 7.4 runs per game at home versus just 3.2 in games played outside the Box.
South Carolina has been a relatively pedestrian offense this season, ranking No. 12 in the SEC in both batting average (.263) and runs scored (223), but they’ve got serious power up and down the lineup.
Only Arkansas, Kentucky and Florida have hit more home runs than the Gamecocks (49) this season. Five South Carolina hitters have five-or-more home runs — LSU only has three — with Jacob Olsen (9) and Carlos Cortes (8) leading the way.
“This team hits a lot of home runs,” Mainieri said. “They build their team as a home run-hitting team. You’ve got to be able to strike some batters out of you’re going to give up some home runs.”
KEEP IT ROLLING
Those questions about whether or not Zack Hess could last as a front like SEC starter seem like an eternity ago, don’t they?
Hess is 4-1 with an ERA of 2.32 through five starts in league play. He’s allowed 17 hits in 31 innings against SEC foes with 34 strikeouts against 16 walks.
The big right-hander has been particularly dominant of late, winning his last three times out while allowing just two earned runs in 21.1 innings to go along with 23 strikeouts.
“The biggest thing for me has been not trying to do too much,” Hess said. “Just filling up the strike zone. Not trying to strike anybody out with strike one because you can’t do that. In the beginning of the year I was still coming in with that mindset that I was closing out the ninth inning. Now I’ve started to settle in and get back to that starter’s mindset.”
Catcher Hunter Feduccia’s status for Friday night remains up in the air until LSU practices in Columbia tonight, Mainieri said. He was only able to bunt and run the bases during pre-game warmups on Wednesday due to discomfort in his hand.
The coach expressed confidence in Nick Coomes if LSU needs him to catch a game or more this weekend. Coomes is presently swinging a hot bat, going 7-for-10 with four runs scoring in his past two starts.
“If I have to go with Coomes, I’ll go with Coomes,” Mainieri said. “Least he gave us some hope last night with the way he’s swinging the bat. He brings something to the team offensively and he’s got his confidence back.”
Bryce Jordan (knee) was available to pinch hit against Tulane but still can’t run much, Mainieri added. The right-handed bat did make the trip to Columbia with the team.