Taking the diamond for the first time in 2012, Dartmouth proved to be a feisty opponent for 13th-ranked LSU Friday at Alex Box Stadium in the opener of a three-game series.
In fact, the Big Green had an answer every time the Tigers made some noise … with one glaring exception.
The Tigers got three hits each from Katz and Rhymes, the three- and four-hole batters in the lineup, and those two came up big in a four-run sixth inning that finally gave LSU some breathing room in an 8-4 triumph.
Katz has reached base safely 17 straight times after producing a single, a double, his second home run of the season and walking in his final two trips to the plate Friday. He upped his average to .548 and scored four times.
Rhymes, meanwhile, has seized advantage of Katz’s hot streak with a bevy of RBIs, including three more Friday. He punched a two-out single in the first inning after Katz doubled down the left-field line. Then in the sixth – with the game deadlocked 4-4 – Rhymes delivered a single with two outs after Dartmouth reliever Louis Concato walked Katz to load the bases.
That timely outburst was enough for the Tigers (8-2) and starting pitcher Kevin Gausman, who was wobbly most of the night but still won his third game in as many starts. Relievers Joey Bourgeois and Nick Goody made sure of that, combining for 2.2 scoreless frames.
“They came out and surprised us a little with how well they swung the bats for playing outside for the first time,” Katz said of the Big Green, who have spent most of the pre-season practicing inside. “They got to Gausman a little bit, which most teams don’t do, and we had to battle them offensively.”
Katz headed up that battle with his third consecutive multi-hit game.
After the double in the first, the LSU first baseman rifled a one-out single to center field in the third inning and motored to third on Rhymes’ flair that found grass on a hit-and-run.
Dartmouth kept the pressure on when Ennis Coble rammed an RBI hit in the fifth after Dustin Seltzer started the frame with a hit, got to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on LSU catcher Ty Ross’ throwing error.
That was all the Big Green mustered because Gausman buckled down and got three outs after Coble’s hit, following a trend that served the Tigers well. Dartmouth was 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and less than two outs against Gausman and Bourgeois, and stranded six runners on second or third.
“We know Gausman is going to go out and compete hard,” Katz said of Gausman. “He goes out and makes pitches when he has to.”
And it helps that Katz seems to be making every swing count when he needs to right now.
Facing a 3-2 deficit, Katz stepped up to the plate with one out in the fifth inning and jolted a long solo home run to left-center field to even the score again.
In the sixth, Ross whipped a double to center field, but was still stuck at second base after Concato retired Chris Sciambra on a roller to shortstop. Leadoff man Jared Foster fell behind 1-and-2 before poking a double to left field to score Ross, again knotting the score at 4-4.
Unlike Gausman did, Concato couldn’t escape the jam as JaCoby Jones hustled out a dribbler between the mound and third base and Katz drew the first of his two free passes. Rhymes looked at a first-pitch strike and then zapped a single to right field for a 6-4 Tigers’ lead they never relinquished. Katz scampered home on a passed ball for the fourth run of the inning.
“It helps to know I don’t have to feel like I have to come through and get a hit every time I’m up,” Katz said. “Raph is getting the job done very well behind me.”
Added Rhymes, “I like to hit when guys are base and Katz is getting on every time he hits right now so that’s exciting.”
Gausman came back out for the seventh inning and surrendered a double – Dartmouth’s fifth two-base hit of the night – to nine-hole hitter Jake Carlson. Joe Sclafani popped out to Nola in shallow left field, and that was it for Gausman after permitting up 10 hits. He struck out six and didn’t issue a walk.
Bourgeois nibbled at first, going to 3-and-1 against Thomas Roulis before getting a 5-3 grounder for the second out. Chris O’Dowd grounded to Katz to end the inning.
The only noise the Big Green made in the eighth was a two-out walk as Bourgeois struck out Seltzer, the cleanup hitter, got Coble on a soft liner back to the mound and fanned Nick Lombardi after the walk. LSU coach Paul Mainieri lauded Bourgeois, who lowered his ERA to 1.59 in four appearances, calling him the story of the night.
Bourgeois might’ve had a subplot, but the main theme belonged to the scorhing hot Katz.
The junior heads into Saturday’s game one plate appearance shy of tying the national record of 18 consecutive trips reaching base safely. Katz shrugged off the possibility of etching his name in the national record books, although he said his teammates have constantly reminded him of his hot streak.
“They let me know about it every time I get on base,” he said with a smile. “It’s fun to for all of us to be swinging the bats like we have the last few games.”
The two teams get back to work at 2 p.m. Saturday, with Tigers freshman Ryan Eades (1-1) set to oppose Dartmouth left-hander Mitch Horacek, who was 3-2 last season.