It wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t have to be.
LSU (12-1) scratched out enough runs at the plate and escaped enough jams on the mound to claim a 6-1 victory over Sacred Heart on Wednesday night at Alex Box Stadium.
In his first collegiate start Pioneer southpaw Nick Leiningen used the windy conditions and his offspeed pitches to baffle LSU hitters for the better part of the evening. Leiningen hurled six innings and allowed two runs, only one of which was earned.
“It was something we’ve never seen before,” said Tiger left fielder Trey Watkins of the crafty Pioneer hurler.
LSU used their batting practice session to prepare for the game and didn’t hit a single ball to the left side of the field.
“We had a tremendous batting practice,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “What happened was the game starts, and the kid is throwing so slow that everybody sees the ball, and it looks like a beach ball. They just totally forgot the whole plan.”
Leiningen met his match in Tiger starter Tyler Jones.
Jones went pitch-for-pitch and then some, rebounding from a rough Sunday coming out of the bullpen. The junior fired seven innings of one-run baseball, allowing just three hits and striking out four.
“I walked guys, and that was my problem when I came in relief,” Jones said. “I don’t feel like I proved myself fully (Wednesday), but it was still a good outing. I’ll take it.”
LSU grabbed their first run in the third inning when Trey Watkins reached on a throwing error by shortstop John Murphy. As the ball scooted away from first baseman Rob Griffith, Watkins scampered in to second and Raph Rhymes came through with a two-out RBI single off of Leiningen.
Sacred Heart hit a pair of two-out singles to put runners on the corners in the fourth, but a Hunter Phillips line drive found JaCoby Jones to end the threat.
Sacred Heart capitalized on Tyler Jones’ wildness and answered with a run of their own in the fifth. Jones plunked right fielder Rocco Gondek to lead off the frame. Chris Whittemore sacrificed him to second before Jones issued a free pass to ninth place hitter M.J. Schifano. Steve Tedesco dropped down the second Pioneer bunt of the inning, advancing the runners to second and third. J.J. Edwards hit a sacrifice fly to right to score Sacred Hearts only run of the contest.
As Jones continued to mow down the visitors from the Northeast Conference, the LSU bats continued to slump.
LSU manufactured a run in the sixth, using a leadoff walk, a wild pitch, a ground out and a sacrifice fly to score the go-ahead run.
Leiningen, who saw his ERA dip almost six runs on the night, exited after 76 pitches through his six innings.
Right-hander Troy Scribner took the ball - and LSU’s bats woke up.
Scribner walked Austin Nola, who was forced on a Mason Katz fielder’s choice, and then LSU’s opposite field approach paid dividends.
After just missing a double down the right field line, Ty Ross singled to right field. J. Jones singled up the middle to score Katz, and Watkins followed suit with another RBI single to center.
“When they put the righty in, it was some relief,” Watkins said. “We were able to keep that approach and stay up the middle.”
With the lead at 4-1, Jones exited and freshman Ryan Eades took the mound for LSU in the eighth. Eades allowed just one hit in a scoreless inning of work, and Matty Ott trotted to the bullpen.
Ott, just one save away from breaking Rick Greene’s all-time record, was in line to grab the record, but the Tiger bats wouldn’t allow it.
Tyler Hanover singled up the middle, and Nola drilled an RBI triple into the gap in right-centerfield. Katz’s suicide-squeeze scored Hanover and pushed the Tigers advantage to 6-1.
Ott’s perfect ninth preserved the win but left the record books untouched, at least for another couple of nights.
Cal State Fullerton is on deck for LSU. The Titans will enter Friday’s contest with a record of 8-3, fresh off a sweep of Southern California. First pitch Friday is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be televised by CST.