It's the perfect timing, you see that man shining
If you would have told me that the score to Thursday's game between Vanderbilt and LSU would be nine to nothing in the third inning I would have said something to the effect of "small ball my ass."
I don't think anybody outside of the LSU locker room was willing to bet on the Tigers to take their three game set with Vanderbilt. But as it happens, a locker room is around the number of people who need to believe in the cause enough to make it happen.
Freshman right fielder Antoine Duplantis started the series off with a single to second, advancing to third on a throwing error by Vanderbilt second baseman Ethan Paul. Jake Fraley brought him home with a groundout on the right side of the infield, and all of a sudden LSU had the lead against Vanderbilt. In the second frame Kramer Robertson drew a walk and advanced to second on another throwing error and to third on a wild pitch. Papierski sacrificed Robertson home, and then LSU had a two run lead.
LSU had a two run lead on Vanderbilt. It had unequivocally been due to errors from the Commodores, but the Alex Box Stadium-Skip Bertman Field crowd didn't care. The Tigers had been gifted two runs, and against Vanderbilt's ace Jordan Sheffield to boot. Factoring in that with Vandy's propensity for racking up runs by playing ABC baseball with mechanical precision, LSU's well-documented offensive inconsistency, and Jared Poche' running on short rest, they figured LSU would need every single run they could muster together just to have a shot at the series. I know that's what I though.
And then in the third inning, the levee gave way and the floodwaters rushed over the Commodores. Seven Tigers crossed the plate via a single from Deichman, a two run single from Kramer, a two run jack from Beau Jordan, a Cole "Drank" Freeman triple, and a Duplantis single. LSU batted around and unlike the previous two innings, none of it had to do with Vanderbilt's mistakes. LSU added to their score in the seventh when Greg Deichmann singled one home and again in the eighth when Vanderbilt committed another error, when Walker Grisanti completely ignored the grounds rules at the Box as well as baseball when he tried to field a dead ball being used in the bullpen after the live one rolled under the Vandy bullpen bench. It was ruled an error in the books, but in my heart it's a three run in the park home run for Bryce Jordan.
Vanderbilt threw up four runs in a flurry, but it was too little too late for the 'Dores in game one.
Lost in the offensive boom, there lies Jared Poche' who on short rest went seven innings strong, spreading four hits across them and only issuing three walks. And that wasn't a "they just kept hitting them to the white shirts" start, Poche' handcuffed the Commodores, striking out eight.
However, all LSU had done to that point was avoid the sweep. There were still two to play, and both sides knew the remaining games would not be as one sided.
The two sides were right.
Alex Lange, LSU's ace and best shot at beating Vanderbilt, began the game by allowing the leadoff Commodore to take him deep. LSU answered the following inning when Chris Reid singled with two outs and moved to second on another Vanderbilt error. After Michael Papierski walked, Drank brought home Reid with a single, and Twonnie brought home the other two runs home.
LSU once again had a lead over Vanderbilt due to errors and this time, it would be the difference. With a one run lead and Lange on the mound, the game was truly afoot. Lange would give up another solo home run to cut the lead to the slimmest of margins, but outside of those two dingers, Lange's 6.1 innings of work starred only one hit and three walks with nine K's mixed among them.
As impressive as Lange was, it was Hunter Newman's night to shine. Newman entered in the 7th for Lange with Vanderbilt threatening and he anted up. Newman faced 10 batters and struck out six of them. And this is what you won't find in the box score: these were not "corner of the the strikezone judgement call" strikeouts, they were "I dare you to hit this" strikeouts. At least three of them ended with the batter's swing taking their body into a full 180-degree spin.
It's a good thing LSU won the series with the first two matches because the third matchup favored Vanderbilt the most. While John Valek III has been the pleasant surprise of the season for LSU, his style of pitching was more focused on damage control and limiting the runners that did get on base, allowing few doubles and more singles. Which Vanderbilt will take any day due to their small ball savvy.
Only on the second batter of the day, Bryan Reynolds took Valek deep into left -- and I do mean deep. Vandy tacked another run on in the third, but LSU kicked back with three runs via a Deichmann single and a Robertson double. The Commodores immediately responded with two runs of their own to retake the lead stemming from a single and sac fly turned into a double play. All was quiet for the next two half innings until LSU put up a four spot in the fifth to take a seven to four lead. In the Tiger fifth, a wild pitch scored Fraley and then Beau Jordan brought two runners home with a single to left. A sacrifice from Papierski to score Robertson ended the scoring for LSU on the day.
LSU was not able to starve off Vanderbilt though, they tacked two runs to cut the lead to one run when they doubled and singled in a run in the seventh inning. In the following inning, Bryan Reynolds dropped a ball just over the wall in right field that scored three runs off of Caleb Gilbert.
The series ended on a frustrating note, but there wasn't much to complain about. The back end of the bullpen in the series finale not withstanding, LSU pitched, hit, and fielded extremely well for three days straight. In every aspect this team looks different than the one that struggled mightily to start the SEC season against Alabama and Texas A&M. Let's not mince words, LSU made a statement and they explicitly stated that the rumors of their demise were greatly exaggerated.
Oh, and LSU is only going to get better. Jake Latz, the highly prized player who had been plagued with injuries for his two years on campus will make his highly-anticipated collegiate debut on Wednesday night against Grambling. Chandler Rome of the Advocate went to Latz's simulated game last week and from the sound of things, Latz's first steps in college will be baby steps and we might see three innings from him if everything looks good. That game comes after the re-scheduled matchup with McNeese State and like the McNeese game, will be televised on SECN+ at 6:30. This weekend LSU travels to CoMo for a series with the Tigers of the Mizzou variety. Game times for the weekend are at six, two, and one and all three will also be on SECN+.
Game 1 - LSU 13, Vanderbilt 4
Game 2 - LSU 3, Vanderbilt 2
Game 3 - LSU 7, Vanderbilt 9