It was a soggy and cold weekend on the blasphemous carpet in Nashville. LSU were the underdogs at an SEC East powerhouse, with a new team whose ceiling and floor are still a matter of debate and uncertainty. The young squad acquitted themselves well, even if they still came home with two Ls on the ledger.
On Friday, LSU got to Vandy Starter Drake Fellows right from the start, AN attack plan we would see the Tigers repeat throughout the weekend. Zach Watson got a leadoff triple and Antoine Duplantis would bring him home on a single. Later in the 1st, Austin Bain would get on with a free pass and came home on Beau Jordan single. LSU would strand 2 , but they had sent 8 batters to the plate and it felt like they might force Vandy to dip into it’s bullpen early on a Friday. Unfortunately, Fellows regained his composure and would keep the Tigers off the board for the rest of the night, spreading 5 more hits through the rest of the night. Even when it seemed LSU might get something started, a double play or a caught stealing would snuff out the threat.
On the other side, Zach Hess had a ok night, but the Commodores only needed a few mistakes to make their mark. In the 2nd and 3rd innings, Hess left some balls right over the plate to Pat DeMarco and Julian Infante, who each took him yard to left for a 2 run bomb. Hess wouldn’t make it out of the 4th, exiting after 98 pitches and an even 3 walks and 3 Ks on the night. John Kodros and Todd Peterson would give scoreless relief, with Peterson notching an impressive 7 Ks over 4.0 IP, but the Dores already had what they needed for the cold and soggy 4-2 win.
The unpleasant weather continued on Saturday, eventually affecting the game and shortening the weekend. Again, LSU scored right off the bat, with a Duplantis HR in the 1st, followed by a Daniel Cabrera RBI triple and a Chris Reid RBI double in the 2nd. On the mound, Caleb Gilbert fended off the Dores with one of his most solid outings of the year. Vandy would make 2 runs on RBI singles in the 6th and 7th, but that was all they could muster. Gilbert had 5K s over 7.0 IP with only 1 walk. He was twice called for a Balk, but neither I nor the TV crew could figure out why it was called. It’s possible the rain may have affected his delivery out of the stretch.
The Tigers would tack on some insurance in the 7th and 8th with RBI singles from Hal Hughes, Brent Broussard, and Beau Jordan. Nick Bush came in for the 8th and had a 12 hour inning as an overnight lightning delay stopped the game with 2 out and 1 on. Surprisingly, Bush came back out at the 10 am restart on and threw a 5 pitch strikeout to keep Vandy off the board for the 6-2 final.
Because of the delay and restart, Sunday’s game was shortened by SEC rules to a 7 inning game. LSU had a chance on Sunday to win their first series in Nashville since 2005. Instead, Vandy got it’s first shutout against LSU since 2004. Vandy freshman Mason Hickman was stellar, allowing only 2 LSU hits and striking out 9 in a complete game 7 inning outing. In the 3rd inning, Cabrera got on with a 2 out walk, but some kind of miscommunication between him, Duplantis, and the dugout caused a blown pitch out steal attempt. Coach Mainieri was caught on camera in the dugout later, clearly furious with Cabrera about the mistake. Even when LSU would manage to get some contact with air under the ball in the 6th inning, Vandy’s great outfield defense made great plays to prevent any trouble.
The theme of the series was Vandy taking full advantage of the smallest mistakes and making them fatally costly. The most painful example of this was how it turned the most impressive start of Ma’Khail Hilliard’s LSU career into a loss. Vandy DH Philip Clarke hit a lead off single into short right to start the 1st inning. Clarke stole 2nd and moved to third on a fly ball to center. Due to some kind of mixed signal between Hilliard and catcher Hunter Feduccia, Hilliard threw wide to the outside and Feduccia wasn’t setup for it. The ball careened of Feduccia’s glove and Clarke scored from 3rd in the scramble for the passed ball. It was a single run, but it was all Vandy needed. Hilliard threw all 6 innings of the shortened game and looked great, notching 8 strikeouts against a tough Vandy lineup, but it still goes down as a 1-0 loss.
Vandy, and series in Nashville in particular, are a bit of a white whale for Paul Mainieri at this point. LSU has never won a series there under him and often the Commodores run away with it. There’s no shame in it, Vandy has been one of the top 10 programs in the nation over that stretch, and their great home field advantage thanks to the insufferable whistling man is against all clubs, not just LSU. Losing the series, but not getting swept, is an acceptable outcome we all would have predicted going in. It doesn’t make the close losses any easier to bear, however.
The good news is that the weekend rotation is now fully operational. At the rate he’s improving, Hilliard might even move up a bit, with Gilbert sliding into a “Vintage Jared Poche Memorial” Sunday role. People want to panic about the bats, and a shutout is always going to make you want to #FireJavi, but try not to discount that this is Vandy, and Tim Corbin grows his pitching staff out of a lab. Those arms and the miserable conditions sucked the power out of the Tigers and still, if not for a handful of minor mistakes, LSU could have taken or even swept the weekend. Losing sucks, but otherwise this was a pretty good weekend on the diamond.
LSU is back in action in Metarie on Tuesday for the Pontiff Classic and another shot at USL, then State comes to the box for an Easter Weekend Thursday series.