METAIRIE – Patience and discipline are on that list of qualities everybody would like to claim they have plenty of.
LSU certainly displayed plenty of both on offense Wednesday against Southern Miss in the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic at Zephyr Field.
Didn’t exactly make for scintillating baseball, but it did add up to another grind-it-out victory for the third-ranked Tigers.
LSU managed only four singles, but seized upon 10 walks, three hit batters and three Golden Eagle errors to churn out an 8-3 triumph.
|Brent Bonvillain: 3 more scoreless innings of work|
Eight pitchers saw action for the Tigers (27-7), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Aaron Nola got the start and victory in his first action since April 1, logging an inning and throwing 29 pitches (22 strikes). Left-hander Brent Bonvillain was again the star with three more scoreless frames. And every other hurler notched a scoreless inning except Cody Glenn, who was touched for a run.
Like Tuesday’s 7-2 triumph against Alcorn State, there weren’t many offensive bells and whistles as LSU waited out one walk after another to take the lead and put the game away later the same way.
Much of the damage came right away, as Southern Miss starter Taylor Nunez and reliever Cody Livingston couldn’t find the strike zone.
The Eagles (19-13) struck first when cleanup hitter Blake Brown won a long battle with Nola and pumped a two-run double to right-center field after Connor Barron’s leadoff single and Tyler Hanover’s error on a potential double-play ball.
Nola settled in after allowing the first runs in the opening inning since he gave up five to Mississippi State on March 18 and squashed the USM threat without any more damage.
Nunez got a quick first out but then walked Grant Dozar, Mason Katz, Austin Nola and Tyler Moore in order for a run. Livingston took over and walked Hanover and Ty Ross, got Arby Fields on a popup and then walked Jared Foster – each free pass forcing in another run as the Tigers led 4-2 after a long first frame.
“We showed very good plate discipline and a good eye at the plate and had quality at-bats to draw the walks,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
Discipline was welcome on a night when the Tigers didn’t unleash a ton of great swings.
After the four-run first without a hit, LSU managed only one hit in the first five innings. That was Fields’ RBI single with two outs in the third inning that plated Hanover, who walked and stole second.
Fields also produced the Tigers’ second hit after Ross drew a free pass to open the sixth frame. When Foster laid down a bunt to move the runners, USM pitcher James McMahon bobbled it to load the bases.
LSU didn’t get another hit in the inning and didn’t need one as two hit batters and a walk with the bags full generated three more runs.
The Tigers’ only other hits were Hanover’s slap-shot to left field in the seventh inning and pinch-hitter Jordy Snikeris’ infield hit in the eighth.
“I’m not going to make too big a deal of us not getting many hits,” Mainieri said.
“When the pitchers are so wild, it’s very difficult to be very aggressive at the plate. You don’t want to swing at bad pitches because the guy is so wild, you don’t want to give him an easy way out of the inning. So it makes you very tentative at the plate.”
As sporadic as LSU’s offense was, the pitchers didn’t need much cushion to work with.
Whatever momentum the Eagles might’ve established against Nola died quickly vs. Bonvillain. The unheralded southpaw faced 10 batters, struck out three and worked around three singles to record three more scoreless innings and extend his scoreless streak to 7.1 frames.
After the initial production, Southern Miss didn’t advance a runner to third again until a two-out pinch-hit single from Andrew Furr chased home a run. Between Brown’s two-RBI double and that hit, the Eagles squandered seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Now the Tigers can shift their focus to a visit from Alabama, which swept Auburn last weekend to get back into the race for an SEC Tournament spot. The Crimson Tide (13-20, 4-8 SEC) lost its only mid-week game to UAB, 9-1. Wednesday’s game at Southeastern Louisiana was washed out.
Rhymes’ status is unknown
Mainieri said junior left fielder Raph Rhymes’ availability for the weekend is still unknown.
Rhymes suffered a concussion when he was hit in the head by a pitch last Friday and hasn’t played in the last three games due to blurry vision, dizziness and other symptoms.
“We’re going to have to wait and see how Raph is (Thursday),” Mainieri said.
Mainieri said Rhymes, who didn’t travel to Metairie, took 70 swings in a batting practice session Tuesday. Rhymes is among the SEC leaders with a .465 average and 34 RBIs.
|Raph Rhymes: His status for the weekend series against Alabama is up in the air.|
“He said his vision was good, but he felt like he hadn’t swung the bat in a month,” Mainieri said. “As he got closer to the 70 swings, his bat speed improved and he said he felt better.”
The LSU trainer and coaches will expand Rhymes’ activity on Thursday, and he could play against Alabama as long as he’s comfortable.
It’s possible Rhymes could fill the DH role instead of returning to the outfield.
“If he’s ready to hit and feels good, we might bring him back slowly and not have him stand on his feet the whole night in the outfield,” Mainieri said.
Green light for Nola
Although he had to battle to get out of the first inning, Aaron Nola “threw the ball really well,” Mainieri said.
Well enough for his coach to lock him in as the starter Sunday against the Tide.
Mainieri said Nola getting extended in his only inning actually paid off because that allowed him to loosen up his arm a little more.
“His best fastballs came toward the end of his performance; they had a little getty-up,” Mainieri said. “As he kept throwing, his arm strength built up. I thought he was ready to go and he’ll be even better on Sunday.”