Momentum isn’t necessarily a big factor in a baseball game, although a turning point here and there can redirect things.
But little breaks here and that fuel confidence are integral on the diamond, and Notre Dame showed why Sunday.
The Righting Irish thumped LSU 7-1 at Alex Box Stadium, halting the 11th-ranked Tigers’ eight-game winning streak.
Sophomore pitcher Sean Fitzgerald survived the first few innings with two timely double plays on his way to a sterling eight-inning performance, and the Notre Dame offense fed off Kurt McCune’s inability to muster out pitches to break in front and never looked back.
That added up to a frustrating day for LSU.
“Whether you lose by one run or like this, losing sucks,” first baseman Mason Katz said.
|Raph Rhymes: 'We've just got to flush this one.'|
Added right fielder Raph Rhymes “We’ve just got to flush this one. This isn’t one we’re going to dwell on.”
Fitzgerald was the story of the day. He entered the day with a 9.82 ERA and opponents were hitting .412 in 11 innings against him.
Early on, it looked like LSU (13-3) might follow that trend. JaCoby Jones jolted a solid single to right field with one in the first inning, and Katz narrowly missed a two-run home run when the ball curled foul.
Given a reprieve, Fitzgerald retired Katz on a sharply hit comebacker.
The Tigers got runners in each of the next two frames, but Fitzgerald induced a 4-3 double play grounder against Tyler Hanover in the second and got a 4-6-3 twin killing in the third after Chris Sciambra poked an opposite-field base hit with one out.
“He located every pitch,” said Rhymes who was 0-for-4 to end a nine-game hitting streak. “He could throw all his pitches for a strike, and when you can control the offpseed that well, it makes the fastball that much better.”
Doesn’t hurt when your hitters give you some breathing room, either.
After McCune blazed through the first two innings without a hitch, he suddenly couldn’t get an out in the third against the bottom of the Notre Dame batting order.
Charlie Markson rifled a leadoff single to left. Alex Robinson laid a bunt down the first-base line that McCune picked up but couldn’t reach Robinson for a tag. Jason McMurray got another bunt down to move both runners up.
“Things started going well for them on that bunt that was misplayed and things started piling up and we didn’t come out from underneath it,” Katz said.
That pile got considerably bigger.
After the consecutive bunts, McCune came at Notre Dame leadoff man Conor Biggio – who was 1-for-1 for the season before Sunday – with a fastball that Biggio rammed to right-center field for a two-run double. Frank DeSico followed by lining a full-count pitch to right to put runners on the corners. Eric Jagielo plated the third run on a sacrifice fly.
“You’ve got to have a put-away pitch and I just didn’t have one (Sunday),” McCune said after his third consecutive rough start.
It got worse for McCune and LSU in the fourth inning.
Trey Mancini ripped an 0-and-2 pitch that was a bit too fat to center field for a leadoff double. McCune got a 2-2 count on Joe Hudson before he whipped a hit to left for a 4-0 Irish cushion.
That ended McCune’s day.
“We couldn’t put away their hitters,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We got two strikes, but couldn’t get outs.”
Joe Broussard took over and got back-to-back groundouts before Robinson delivered again when his twisting fly ball eluded Sciambra in center field for a triple.
That 5-0 hole might not have seemed impossible considering how Fitzgerald had thrown prior to Sunday. But he didn’t budge once he got the lead this time.
He mowed down 13 of the next 15 hitters until the Tigers finally posed a threat and even that fizzled out.
|Chris Sciambra: Pair of singles in the losing effort raise his average to .200|
Ty Ross laced a one-out double to left field in the eighth inning, one of his three hits, and moved to third when Sciambra dumped his second single of the day to right. Jared Foster came through with a double to left field and that set LSU up for a big inning with Jones, Katz and Rhymes waiting to throw gas on the fire.
But Fitzgerald wasn’t fazed and struck out Jones on a weak 0-and-2 swing before ending the threat by zipping a fast ball by Katz for a called third strike.
“Their pitcher came out throwing strikes, and we didn’t have very many good swings,” Katz said. He’s 3-for-20 since a torrid streak of reaching base 17 plate appearances in a row ended.
“We had eight hits, but it didn’t seem like we ever got one that meant anything until the last few innings.”
LSU pieced together one more threat in the ninth against Notre Dame reliever Dan Slania when Nola reached on an error, Tyler Hanover stroked a base hit and Ross joined them on base with his third hit.
But the day ended like it had transpired as Sciambra flew out to center.
LSU came up with only eight at-bats with runners in scoring position Sunday and had three hits. Notre Dame (7-5) was 5-for-9 and had six RBIs in those situations, including another RBI hit by Biggio in a two-run seventh inning.
“They got themselves a little lead and then their pitcher didn’t give us any chances to get back into it,” Mainieri said. “We had a few balls we hit hard, but I didn’t think we had a lot great swings.
“That kid mixed his pitches. He threw breaking ball for strikes, and then when he got us thinking about that, he’d slip a fast ball inside. He kept us off balance we didn’t make good enough adjustments.”
Unlike most weekends, the Tigers won’t have to wait long to bounce back. They face Notre Dame again at 6:30 p.m. Monday, with freshman Aaron Nola slated to pitch against Irish left-hander Steve Sabatino.
“The good thing is we get to play again (Monday), and that gives us a chance to bounce back,” Rhymes said. “We’ll come back out here ready to work.”