Because of the length and grind of a baseball season, there are bound to be a night here and there when a team doesn’t have the normal zip.
What separates the good teams from the great is what the response is on those less-than-stellar nights.
Eades and the Tigers ran headfirst into one of those nights Saturday against Michigan, but found enough sizzle when they had to on the way to a 6-4 victory at Alex Box Stadium.
|Ryan Eades: Notches third win despite allowing three home runs and 10 hits|
Eades battled through eight innings, allowing three solo home runs and 10 hits altogether, and LSU scratched out the tying run in the fifth and three two-out runs in the seventh to win an eighth game in a row.
No. 8 was anything but easy and it didn’t leave Paul Mainieri in a great mood.
“We just weren’t ready to play (Saturday) and that’s my fault,” Mainieri said. “I could tell during batting practice the intensity level wasn’t quite there. We had a bad batting practice and it carried into the game.
“We gave away a lot of at-bats with easy outs, chased a lot of bad pitches.”
Fortunately, though, the Tigers (13-2) found a few pitches – and waited out a few others – when they needed to most.
Things started out with a bang when leadoff hitter Jared Foster cranked a solo home run to left field in the bottom of the first inning, snapping an 0-for-18 slump.
That 1-0 lead lasted a few innings as Eades (3-1) blazed through the first six batters without a hitch.
The Wolverines came alive in the third inning when eight-hole hitter Dylan Delaney ended their 21.2-inning scoring drought by connecting on a solo bomb to left-center to knot the score.
Michigan jumped in front in the fourth inning when Coley Crank wrapped a fly ball just inside the left-field foul pole for a homer. John Lorenz pumped the next pitch into left field for a single and John DiLaura chopped a perfect hit-and-run through the vacated hole at second base to put runners on the corners with one out.
Delaney added a squeeze bunt to his homer to plate Lorenz for a 3-1 UM advantage.
Eades ended the threat when he got Cole Martin to roll out to second, but the Tigers were left with work to do.
LSU chipped away to draw even, but also squandered chances to seize command.
With one out in the fourth, Raph Rhymes poked a liner to left field for one of his three hits and Austin Nola walked. Tyler Hanover – at 5-foot-6 giving up 14 inches to Wolverines pitcher Ben Ballantine – got ahead in the count 2-and-0 and then dumped a single into left to score Rhymes.
The Tigers tied the score in the fifth inning when JaCoby Jones rolled a one-out single through the left side, stole second with two outs and motored to third on an errant throw from Martin, the Wolverines' catcher.
Rhymes delivered the run when his sharp line drive was just out of Delaney’s leaping grasp at shortstop, although he did deflect the ball.
With the game evened up, Eades mowed through the Wolverines’ sixth inning with a pair of strikeouts, but Delaney started the seventh with a laser through the middle that Jones got a glove on but couldn’t come up with. Martin bunted him to second base, but he was still there when Eades snared a blistering shot off Patrick Biondi’s bat for the second out.
Will Drake jumped on Eades’ first offering and scorched a grounder that Hanover dove for and deflected, but it squirted into shallow left for a hit.
Looking for the go-ahead run, Delaney never stopped as he rounded third base. But Nola alertly backed up the play, scooped up the ball and delivered a perfect strike to Ross at the plate in plenty of time to get Delaney by several feet.
|Austin Nola: Delivers key defensive play and key at-bat for a walk|
“We knew that with a runner at second base and two outs, they were going to press the issue – that if we bobbled a ball he was going to keep going,” Nola said. “I heard their third-base coach waving him the whole time to keep going, so I knew I had to make one good throw and he’d be out by five steps.”
He was, and the Tigers seized that jolt of momentum to take the lead.
With two outs and Jones at first base, Rhymes laced an opposite-field double that the right fielder got to but couldn’t come up with. Nola fell behind Wolverines’ reliever Matt Ogden 0-and-2, fouled off a pitch and then methodically worked his way all the way back to draw a walk that loaded the bases.
“I just wanted to battle and put up a good at-bat,” said Nola, who leads the team with 12 walks. “First base was open and I knew he had to come back to me. I couldn’t swing at anything out of the zone. I battled back and it paid off.”
Added Mainieri, “Even when he goes down two strikes, you know he’s not going to quit. He’s going to stay in there battling that pitcher.”
That brought up Hanover for a turning-point moment. Ogden fell behind 3-and-1, Hanover took strike two and then watched as the next pitch went by down and away – but just barely – for ball four to force in a run.
“It was three or four inches outside; I didn’t think it was even close,” Hanover said. “I felt like it was outside and I didn’t think I needed to swing at that.”
Ogden was obviously frustrated at not getting the pitch, and UM coach Rich Maloney came out for a mound visit. When home-plate umpire Nelson Graham came out to break up the visit, Maloney voiced his displeasure as well and was ejected.
All the while, Dozar watched from the batter’s box – eager for redemption after going hitless in three at-bats. When play resumed, Ogden threw two pitches out of the strike zone before Dozar punched a single through the right side to score a pair of runs and boost LSU’s lead to 6-3.
|Grant Dozar shrugged off three rough at-bats and came through with a two-out, two-run single|
“You’ve got to put those behind you, and when you come up in a situation to help your team, that’s all you can focus on,” said Dozar, who drove in four of the 12 runs the Tigers scored against UM. “Coach had the confidence to put me back in the box after those tough couple of at-bats, and I was excited to come through for my team.”
The Wolverines weren’t done.
Slugger Michael O’Neill hammered Eades’ first pitch of the eighth inning over the left-field fence for the Wolverines’ third solo blast, but that was their last stand. Eades got the next three outs to finish the eighth, and Nick Goody came on to throw a scoreless ninth to record LSU’s first save of the season when he got Biondi on a called third strike.
“Eades is going to throw a lot of strikes, and because he does, hitters are going to go up there ready to swing,” Mainieri said.
“The fact that Eades gave up that home run to me was irrelevant. I’d much rather he give up a home run there than walk a batter.”
Mainieri added that he “thought Goody was great coming out of the pen,” but said there wasn’t much else to be pleased about.
“We gave away a lot of at-bats with easy outs,” he said. “We were chasing pitches up and out of the strike zone all night.
“We did just enough to win (Saturday), and now we’re going to turn the page and get ready to face Notre Dame.”
McCune has been wobbly in his last two starts, allowing six runs in 7.2 innings with six walks, after winning his first outing in a 4-0 shutout against Air Force.
“I’m real anxious to see Kurt McCune go out there and re-establish himself,” Mainieri said. “I’m anxious to see him go out and throw the ball like I know he’s capable of and pound that strike zone.”