Baseball is a humbling game.
Just a week ago the LSU Tigers polished off a three-game sweep of No. 6 Cal State Fullerton, and they rode that momentum to a come-from-behind win over Nicholls State on Wednesday.
After three Southeastern Conference games, Paul Mainieri’s Tigers find themselves without a win and wondering what could have been against No. 1 Florida.
“When I looked at the schedule, and we had Fullerton and Florida on back-to-back weekends, in my heart I was hoping to go 3-3 or 4-2 in those two weekends, but I would have certainly traded the three wins against Fullerton for the three wins against Florida,” Mainieri said.
After a pair of one-run wins to open the series, Florida got more outstanding and opportunistic pitching from starter Karston Whitson and reliever Austin Maddox and used a five-run fourth inning to win earn a 7-3 victory and sweep the Tigers on the opening weekend of SEC play.
“Lack of intensity really did show today,” said junior third baseman Tyler Hanover. “Let’s put this one behind us and get moving forward.”
LSU (16-4, 0-3) showed signs of life in the first five innings, moving runners into scoring position in each frame against Whitson, but the Tigers were only able to plate three runs and never delivered a knockout blow.
Austin Nola singled to leadoff the 2nd inning. Grant Dozar walked, and Ty Ross singled to load the bases. JaCoby Jones ripped an RBI single off the glove of a diving Nolan Fontana, scoring Nola.
Trey Watkins lofted a sacrifice fly to right field to score Dozar, and Ross and Jones advanced to second and third with two away, leaving it up to designated hitter Raph Rhymes to deliver the big hit.
He grounded to third to end the threat.
“I don’t know what (Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan) would say, but I think he was one batter away from hooking his starting pitcher,” Mainieri said. “Rhymes is up with runners on second and third. We had two runs in. If he came through with a big hit there, I think he’s hooking his starting pitcher.”
Florida gift wrapped LSU’s third run.
With two out in the third inning and Mikie Mahtook on third, Mason Katz hit a one-hopper to Cody Dent at third. Dent couldn’t handle it, and the unearned run scored.
That would be all for the Tiger offense.
Trailing by three in the fourth inning the Gators strung four singles together, the last one a two-RBI base hit from Mike Zunino.
After Kamm Washington’s sacrifice bunt pushed runners to second and third with one out, Tiger starter Ben Alsup got a sharp groundout to Grant Dozar at first for the second out, but Florida poured salt in the Tigers’ clutch hitting wound with a two-out, two-RBI, pinch hit single from Jeff Moyer.
Fontana tripled to score Moyer, the fifth run of the inning, and give the Gators a 5-3 lead.
“I left some pitches up, and they weren’t chasing some of my offspeed down low,” Alsup said. “If you leave pitches up to a club like this, you’re going to get hurt.”
A Mahtook single and a Dozar walk would chase Whitson in the fifth, but, as was the case in games one and two, O’Sullivan grabbed an impressive arm out of the bullpen to put out the fire.
Maddox, who started the game as the designated hitter, came on to get Ross to fly out and strand two of LSU’s 27 runners on the weekend.
Maddox cruised through 4 1/3 innings of two-hit scoreless relief, and the Gators tacked on two more runs to make the winning margin 7-3.
“It’s a growing experience for us,” Mahtook said. “There are still 27 more SEC games to play.”
The sweep marks the second time in four seasons that LSU has opened the SEC schedule 0-3. Tennessee swept the Tigers in Knoxville in 2008.
LSU will be back at it Tuesday night as they welcome Louisiana-Lafayette for a 6:30 p.m. game at Alex Box.