When previewing the season, we said that, for the first time in a while, the pitching staff would be the better unit on this year’s baseball team. LSU’s continuing woes at the plate are proving that out.
All due respect to the Colonels, but this was not a set of arms that LSU should have had this much trouble with. Friday night in the deep cold and wind, the Tigers managed a measly 3 hits, one each from Saul Garza, Cade Beloso, and Maurice Hampton. Despite 7 walks, LSU stranded them all in the shutout loss. The worst of it came in the bottom of the 5th where LSU had managed to load the bases with one out. Hal Hughes came up with a chance to get LSU on the board and struck out, followed by Cade Doughty filing out to right. Cole Henry had a good start, going 5 IP with 2 runs on 3 hits, 3 walks, and 3 strikeouts, but with no run support he took the loss in the 0-2 defeat.
Saturday was not much better, though LSU was at least extremely efficient at the plate. The game started fast enough with a 2 run homer by Daniel Cabrera in the first inning. But then EKU’s starter Jacob Ferris found a groove and nearly completely locked down the Tigers for the rest of the game. Ferris gave up only 2 hits from the 2nd through 7th innings, facing the minimum 4 times and striking out the side of LSU’s 2-4 hitters in the 6th. Ferris was finally chased in the 8th after 119 pitches, with 2 out and 2 on. His replacement Jacob Abbott immediately walked the bases loaded, then walked in a run. Cade Beloso cleared the bases with a 3 RBI double and the Tigers appeared to be headed to a comfortable 6-0 win on just 6 hits.
Landon Marceaux shined in his Saturday start, going 8 IP, giving up just 4 hits on 6 strikeouts with no walks. He was on a 90 pitch pitch count, but was so efficient that he could have scored a Maddux (complete game shutout in under 100 pitches) He very well might have started the 9th, but the long break for LSU’s 4 runs in the bottom of the 8th probably convinced Mainieri to end his day after just 80 pitches. Aaron George started the 9th for the Tigers and was in immediate trouble, going Walk, Walk, RBI Single, RBI Single, before he was yanked for Devin Fontenot. The Colonels managed to score one more run on an RBI ground out, but Fontenot struck out the final 2 batters to halt the comeback in the 6-3 final score.
Things finally started to fall apart for EKU in Sunday’s rubber match. After taking an early 2-0 lead, LSU exploded in the 3rd inning for 7 runs (2 unearned) on 5 hits, including a bases loaded walk for Saul Garza followed by a 2 RBI single from Beloso. The Tigers scored another run in the 4th on a fielding error to take the score to 10-0 and everyone started looking for a run rule on this Mardi Gras Sunday. AJ Labas had a start almost as efficient as Marceaux, going 7 IP, with 6 Ks and 1 walk. His only rough inning came in the 6th, giving up a 2 RBI double to bring the final score to 10-2.
Defensively, there were two big takeaways from the weekend. 1. Milazzo has an absolute cannon behind home plate, with 3 pick offs on the weekend and a great play on Sunday where he fielded a sac bunt in front of the plate to 2nd base for a force out fielder’s choice. 2. Hal Hughes may have played himself out of the SS position. After the bases loaded strikeout on Friday, freshman Collier Cranford got the start for the other 2 games of the series. Granted, Cranford went 0-7 over those two games, but there is not a louder message that Mainieri can send about this. Hughes needs to get out of this funk, and fast.
There was a scary moment late in Sunday’s game when Gavin Dugas took an errant pitch to the head, knocking him to the ground, where he stayed for several minutes. He did eventually walk off the field and Mainieri said in the postgame that he was showing concussion symptoms.
LSU doesn’t look like a complete team yet and unfortunately, it’s already time for the first big test. After a midweek with La Tech, LSU heads to Houston for the Shriner’s Classic against some of the best the BXII has to offer in Baylor (4-3, series win over Nebraska), #23 Oklahoma (7-2, series win over UVA), and Texas (8-0, swept Boise St and Rice). Struggling against EKU pitching doesn’t project a lot of confidence in how this team will handle Power 5 pitching from traditionally good-to-great programs. It’s going to fall on the pitching staff’s shoulders to carry this load for now.