Paul Mainieri’s No. 1 ranked signing class didn’t take long to pay dividends.
Freshmen Kevin Gausman, Ryan Eades and JaCoby Jones delivered clutch performances in LSU’s 4-3 victory against Wake Forest on Saturday at Alex Box Stadium.
Of course, having Matty Ott as an option doesn’t hurt either.
Gausman, making his collegiate debut, gave up a run in each of the first two frames while the Tigers offense, which tallied 15 runs Friday night, struggled.
LSU pushed a run across in the second on a Jones bloop single, then used a safety squeeze from three-hole hitter Tyler Hanover to plate the tying run in the fifth.
“We’re gonna have to do what it takes to score runs,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “I feared, with one out and runners on first and third, that Hanover would put a really good swing on a ball and smoke a ground ball right at the short stop, and a double play ends the inning.”
Though the squeeze worked, the home team struggled to figure out Wake Forest lefty Tim Cooney.
Cooney delivered a gutty 6 1/3 innings, allowing three earned runs on nine hits while striking out three.
“Mikie (Mahtook) came up to me and told me to keep pitching my game,” Gausman said. “He told me, ‘Eventually we’ll see enough pitches off of this guy. We’ll get him,’ and eventually they did.”
Gausman, whose fastball reached 98 miles per hour in the early going, struck out six Wake batters and surrendered six hits in his 5 2/3 innings of work before handing the ball to fellow 2010 signee Ryan Eades.
The former Northshore High School standout misfired on his first five pitches but settled in and got the ground ball to get out of the 6th inning and preserve the tie.
Jones stepped to the dish in the next frame and deposited a Cooney offering over the left field wall for his first home run as a Tiger, breaking the tie. The homer was Jones’ fifth hit in seven at bats on the weekend.
“There’s no doubting the talent that this kid has,” Mainieri said. “He’s got the capabilities of being a real special player for us. That home run he hit wasn’t just a home run. He laid off a couple of pitches, and then he hit that ball a ton.”
Eades wiggled out of a jam in the 8th. After an Alex Edward error and a Conor Keniry single, Eades snapped of a wicked breaking ball to freeze Wake Forest slugger Matt Conway and end the inning.
In the bottom of the 8th junior Mikie Mahtook slammed his third home run of the weekend, accounting for all three of his hits, to give Eades a two-run cushion.
He would need it.
With Ott warming in the bullpen, Eades surrendered a leadoff homerun to Deacon DH Charlie Morgan, just over a leaping Trey Watkins’ glove.
After a single by Mac Williamson and a deep foul ball off the bat of Carlos Lopez, Mainieri pulled his youngster for Ott.
“I don’t think I’ve ever hooked a guy after a foul ball, but that was far enough,” Mainieri said.
Ott fanned Lopez, but Williamson swiped second on the full count offering.
A James Harris groundout moved Williamson to third.
He would stay there.
Ott fanned pinch hitter Evan Stephens on a sinker in the dirt, moving just one save away from all-time leader Rick Greene (29).
The win moves LSU to 2-0 on the young season and clinches the weekend series.
LSU and Wake Forest finish the series Sunday. The contest is set for 2 p.m.
Mainieri will out another freshman right hander: Kurt McCune. Wake Forest (0-2) will counter with sophomore Justin Van Grouw, who was 1-4 last season.