Paul Mainieri decided to ease JaCoby Jones into action this season by batting the freshman in the nine hole.
Jones’ four hits on Friday aided a 12-run outburst in the Tigers’ series opening win against Holy Cross. Jones, who is now 10-for-17 on the season, drove in a run and scored three more.
“I’m comfortable hitting in the nine hole,” Jones said. “Usually there are people on base when I hit in the nine hole, so I see a lot of fastballs.”
Fellow freshman Kevin Gausman picked up his first win as a Tiger, throwing six innings and allowing just three runs on four hits. Gausman fanned seven and walked three.
After four, two-out walks forced across an LSU run in the first, Holy Cross freshman Andrew Berry stroked a Kevin Gausman fastball out of the yard for a two-run homer, giving the Crusaders an early lead.
Gausman’s problems continued in the third. After walking, Alex Maldenado swiped second and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Ty Ross. Jack Laurendeau drew a base on balls later in the at bat, putting runners on the corners with just one out.
Gausman induced a 4-6-3 double play from Eric Oxford to escape the jam.
“(The double play) was huge,” Gausman said. “I made a good pitch, and luckily he got on top of it and hit a ground ball. Once he hit it, I knew it was a double play with JaCoby and Nola.”
LSU’s offense responded.
Raph Rhymes walked to lead off the third and Tyler Hanover laid down his third beautiful bunt of the season to advance Rhymes. Mikie Mahtook reached on an error in front of Austin Nola’s two-run double that tied the game.
Ross stepped to the plate with the bases loaded, but flied out, ending the threat.
Gausman put up zeros in the third and fourth – giving the Tiger bats time to wake up.
LSU struck for three in the fourth on a Raph Rhymes RBI groundout and a Nola two-out, two-run single.
With a 5-2 lead, Gausman retired the first two batters in the fifth inning before walking Brenden McRae, Holy Cross’ nine hole hitter, balking him to second and allowing an RBI single on an 0-2 count.
“He can be better, and he’s going to need to be better,” Mainieri said of Gausman. “I told him, ‘If you want to be a Friday night pitcher in the SEC, you’ve got to be better than that,’.”
Rhymes struck again with a three-run double in the fifth to pad the Tiger lead.
Four more runs in the sixth, capped by a Trey Watkins two-run homer to left, drove the stake through the Crusaders’ heart.
“The first couple of innings, I was freaking out,” Gausman said. “I was like ‘oh geez, they’re not going to hit again for me,’ and they told me that we’ll start hitting the ball, and the definitely did.”
Lost in all of the early season success has been the Tiger bullpen. Kevin Berry, Nick Rumbelow and Samuel Peterson combined to shut Holy Cross out over the final three frames to preserve the win for Gausman.
Through five games, Tiger relievers have allowed just five runs and struck out 18 in 17 1/3 innings of work.
Game two of the series is at 3 p.m. Saturday. Sunday’s contest is a noon start.