Work done early

Tigers barrel to quick lead, then cruise past Air Force 10-2 in opener.

One early mistake pitch cost LSU pitcher Kevin Gausman a little aggravation Friday night when the 8th-ranked Tigers got the 2012 season off the ground against Air Force at Alex Box Stadium.


Several errant offerings and one pitch right where Jackson Slaid wanted it proved a lot costlier to Falcons’ starter Ben Bertelson.


LSU punched home five runs in the first inning and four more in the second – most of that assault at Bertelson’s expense – and never looked back on the way to a 10-2 triumph.


Gausman allowed only one run in a workmanlike six-inning stint and struck out seven for his first win of the season.


The first two Air Force hitters struck out in quick order against Gausman, who was demonstrative after both. When he tried to zip a fast ball past three-hole hitter Garrett Custons, though, the ball wound up in the left-field bleachers for a 1-0 Falcons lead.


“I was pretty mad about it at first,” Gausman said. “It’s gonna happen. I was gonna give a home run at some point.


“I think he noticed we were starting guys off with fastballs and trying to be aggressive. He was kind of cheating fastball. When I was just about to pitch, I was thinking ‘I should’ve shook off and throw a changeup.’ He was definitely sitting dead-red fastball, and I left it up too much and you can’t do this at the level.”


While finding too much of the strike zone was the most damaging mistake Gausman made, struggling to find it was Bertelson’s demon.


He hit the first two Tigers with pitches – Tyler Hanover on the first offering and Casey Yocom with a 2-2 count. Raph Rhymes drew a walk to load the bases and Mason Katz was the third victim of an HBP on a 1-2 count to force in a run that evened the score 1-1.


That brought Jackson Slaid to the plate in his first career start and he drove a pitch just inside the right-field line for a two-run double that opened the flood gates.


“I got a pitch up and away and was able to put a good swing on it,” said Slaid, who started in left field when Alex Edward was a late scratch after tweaking his hamstring in pre-game work. “It’s nice to get that first one out of the way, especially in that situation when we needed some runs.”


Austin Nola and Ty Ross chased in the other two runs of the first salvo, Ross with a two-out single.

Casey Yocom: Two runs scored an an RBI single in his LSU debut


LSU (1-0) went right back to work in the second when Hanover drew a leadoff walk, Yocom laced a run-scoring double just inside the left-field line and Rhymes walked again. That ended Bertelson’s night, but not the damage against him.


Falcons reliever Ben Yokley nearly quelled the threat by fanning Katz and retiring Slaid on a roller to first base. But JaCoby Jones – a strikeout victim in the first – rifled a two-run double to right field. Nola came through again with a rope to left-center to plate Jones for a 9-1 cushion.


In those first two frames, LSU collected four hits in its first nine at-bats with runners in scoring position and produced eight runs in those situations.


“We had a couple of guys come through with big hits and that’s something we’re going to have to do consistently,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said.


Won’t hurt to have Gausman pitch the way he did Friday either.


Though not razor-sharp, Gausman pitched well – not just relying on his crackling fastball to overpower the Falcons.


Besides Custons’ homer, Air Force (0-2) produced three other hits off Gausman, one each in every inning he threw except the sixth. All three started innings and he also walked a batter to begin the second.


But each of the five runners who reached against Gausman withered on the base paths as he dodged trouble and didn’t give up a hit in nine Air Force at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Kevin Gausman: Worked around three leadoff hits and a leadoff walk en route to his first win of 2012.


“My pitching coach A.D. (Alan Dunn) told me (Friday) was one of those nights where you learn how to pitch,” Gausman said. “You don’t have best stuff, but you learn how to compete. I gave up minimum damage because I was able to make the right pitches to the next guy after I gave up a hit or a walk.”


The Tigers’ sophomore ace only needed 68 pitches to get through six frames before giving way to Kevin Berry, Aaron Nola and Nick Goody for an inning each. Berry worked around a hit batsman for a shutout frame, Nola surrendered a run but strike out two in his college debut and Goody was untouchable, striking out the side to finish off the Falcons.


Air Force hitters struck out 12 times in 33 at-bats and the four LSU hurlers combined to record eight ground-ball outs, all rather routine.


The Tigers’ bats were quiet after the noisy start, generating only more run the final six at-bats – that on Jordy Snikeris’ fielder’s choice in the fourth inning. LSU finished with only eight hits, with Austin Nola and Ross each collecting two.


“We had the jitters a little bit, but you’re also not going to hit 14 home runs every night,” Austin Nola said. “We also know we need to do better, and we know what we need to do.


Added Mainieri, “We lost a little bit of an edge when it became lopsided and that’s going to happen. I’m not upset about it. We know we can play better than that, but (Friday) we didn’t have to.”


The Tigers are back in action at 6:30 p.m. Saturday when they face Alcorn State, which rallied to beat Air Force 7-5 in an earlier game Friday. Sophomore Ryan Eades will start on the mound for LSU.



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