LSU (35-17) completed the sweep of Auburn (32-21) 9-1 with the help of freshman Eric Walker taking a no-hit bid into the eighth inning.
For the most part, Eric Walker’s no hit bid was nearly lost in the eighth inning when Will Holland laid into a pitch and drilled a line drive. Third baseman Josh Smith went up the ladder and caught the ball for the first out. Often there is a web gem in a no hitter that serves as the decisive play in the outcome, and that play by Josh Smith looked to be like that play.
“That play I though was going to be one to save (the no-hitter),” Walker said. “That guy put a good swing on it and late in the game in the seventh and eighth my command wavered a little bit, which that’s on me, that’s baseball. They both put good swings on it but Josh made that play and the other one went out. That’s just part of baseball.”
Walker was one out away from taking his no hitter into the ninth inning when he threw just a little too fat of a pitch. The result was nine hole hitter Sam Gillikin breaking up the no-no with a solo shot to left field.
Walker finished the eighth and then was pulled for the ninth inning, throwing eight innings of one hit ball with one earned run allowed, striking out three and walking the same amount. Walker relied heavily on the defense behind him, inducing easy pop flies and ground balls.
“He threw with an awful lot of confidence and looked in complete control out there,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said about his freshman number three starter. “He hit his spots and we played perfect defense behind him. He was perfect pitcher to be pitching today.”
“A series sweep here was huge,” Walker said of his motivations to pitch like he did today. “It’s also that extra motivation within yourself to do better. I felt like I haven’t really been that good the last four weeks so I just wanted to come out and prove that I could be that kind of pitcher.”
Not to take credit away from Walker and his flirtation with a perfect hitter, but his effort today was just the finale in a trilogy of near dominant pitching performances from Alex Lange, Jared Poche’, and Eric Walker.
“It was pretty good,” Mainieri said of the weekend LSU had on the bump. “I’m not sure Alex Lange has pitched a better game in his career here and he’s pitched an awful lot of great ones. He got us off to a good start and Poche’ was unbelievable last night night and oh my goodness, I gotta give credit to (Sam Gillikin) I don’t know how that ball got out the ballpark. I guess if you’re going to lose a no-hitter it’s better to lose it on a home run.”
LSU exploded for three runs against Auburn’s ace Casey Mize in the second inning. Nick Coomes hit a double to right field to jump start the inning and he was followed by back to back singles from Josh Smith and Beau Jordan, Jordan’s scoring Coomes. Michael Papierski safety squeezed Smith home and moved Jordan to third base. Jordan scored on a sac fly from Robertson to make the lead 3-0 in favor of the purple and gold Tigers.
Josh Smith continued to make up for his nearly costly error from Friday night with a one out double in the fourth inning. And just like Friday night, he was scored on a home run from Michael Papierski to right field, a no-doubter of a shot to put LSU ahead 5-0.
“It felt good to put up three good games in a row against good pitching...very good pitching,” Papierski said. “(Mize) tried to get ahead early and he’s going to try to beat you with his offspeed (pitches). We got a lot of fastballs today and put good swings on it.”
Still, Papierski shrugged the spotlight off of himself and on his pitcher. “The show today was Eric Walker.”
“After that error last night you wonder how well a young kid is going to handle it,” Mainieri said. “Last night he came back strong and drew a walk, made a clutch play in the 9th inning and today he made tremendous baseball. He’s an excellent baseball player. I should never worry about Josh Smith. He’s going to be one of the best ones to come through here.”
Josh Smith continued his hot streak when he drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the 6th for LSU and advanced to third on two straight wild pitches before scoring on a Beau Jordan sac fly to left. Papierski then walked and was followed by a Watson single. Papierski was out on a fielder’s choice from Robertson. Cole Freeman popped up to shallow right field, but both the second baseman and right fielder lost the ball in the sun, allowing both base runners to score. LSU added one more in the eighth inning with two infield singles from Jordan and Watson, Jordan scoring on a 5-3 putout off the bat of Robertson to push the lead to 9-0.
“Well I just can’t tell you how proud I am of our team,” Paul Mainieri said. “I just thought we played outstanding baseball all weekend in every facet of the game. Our starting pitching was phenomenal, our relief pitching was outstanding, our defense was...woo, I don’t even know how to describe our defense and we ran the bases well.”
With the sweep, the pressure is on Mississippi State to hold on to first place in the SEC West after this weekend. The two schools will settle the west next weekend in Starkville.
“Everybody knew what was at stake this weekend. They knew that if we got the job done it would certainly make the last weekend of the season very exciting. Starting next weekend, we play for championships every weekend.”
Before heading to Starkville for the final regular season series, LSU will host Northwestern State in the last midweek game and regular season home game for LSU. The game will begin as always at 6:30 and broadcast on the SECN+.