One glance at the LSU stat sheet verifies what an eye test of the Tigers reveals.
And while those two juniors have been solid from start to finish this season, for the fourth-ranked Tigers to make any serious noise in the NCAA Tournament, a few other hitters are going to have to show they can deliver in key situations.
Tuesday’s 9-5 victory against Tulane at Alex Box Stadium gave a cross-section of just how good LSU can be with the bats when that happens.
All of the Tigers’ runs came with two outs and each one was produced by the second wave of hitters on the stat sheet, each batting around .300.
The Tigers (36-10) stayed in front of the pesky Green Wave (29-16) with single runs in the second, fourth and fifth frames – none driven in by Rhymes (team-best 46 RBIs coming in) or Katz (36).
Ty Ross chased in Jordy Snikeris with a two-out single in the second inning, an opposite-field knock on a 2-and-1 count against Tulane starter Alex Byo. Tyler Hanover got Rhymes home in the fourth when he banged a bases-loaded base hit the other way and Austin Nola cranked a solo home run in the fifth right after LSU lost a runner on the base paths when JaCoby Jones was called out for leaving early on Arby Fields’ flyout to center.
“Our goal is to have nine tough outs, so we can make as tough as possible on the pitcher,” Nola said after his third homer gave LSU the lead for good. “It mentally grows on a pitcher when every guy goes up there with fight and makes him work.”
Added Hanover, “It’s always good for guys like us to come out and have good at-bats. That spills over and no mater if we’re hitting before (Katz and Rhymes) or after them, it has a good effect on the rest of the game because we’re making the pitcher work harder.”
|Tyler Hanover: Drove in a run and extended a six-run inning when he reached on an error that scored two more runs|
Although each of the first three runs allowed the Tigers to stay a step ahead of the Wave, Nola’s bomb was the blow that allowed them to get their mojo back.
Jones began the fifth inning by rolling a seeing-eye single through the left side, his second hit of the night. Byo balked him to second base with Fields at the plate, setting the stage for a potential big inning.
Fields lofted a fly ball that got into the wind and lofted to center where Brandon Boudreaux tracked it down. Jones tagged at second and slid in well ahead of the throw. But Tulane appealed and first-base umpire Ray Gregson quickly signaled Jones out, prompting a spirited visit from LSU coach Paul Mainieri.
Once the brouhaha settled down, Nola stepped into the batter’s box, jumped ahead of Byo 2-and-0 and pummeled the next offering into the stands.
“I went up there thinking I could get a pitch up in the zone and drive it in this wind,” Nola said. “I got one and I got it up in the wind.”
The long ball seemed to take the pressure off the Tigers, and it helped that the Green Wave defense suddenly got the yips.
Rhymes started the sixth inning against Tulane reliever Randy LeBlanc, with his second single of the night and moved to second when third baseman Garrett Cannizzaro botched a ground ball off Snikeris’ bat for an error. LeBlanc retired Tyler Moore on an infield chopper with the infield pulled in and then fanned Ross, coming tantalizingly close to keeping the score 3-2.
But shortstop Brennan Middleton booted Hanover’s hot shot through the middle, allowing both runners to score for a 5-2 LSU lead. LeBlanc hit Jones with a 2-and-2 pitch to extend the frame and Fields blew the game open when he torched a screaming liner over Boudreaux’s head in center field for a two-run triple.
Nola dumped an RBI single into left field to plate Fields and came around himself on Katz’s double into the left-field corner – the only run he or Rhymes produced.
|AUstin Nola: Solo HR and two-out RBI single are key to LSU's 11-hit attack|
Every starter except Snikeris had at least one of LSU’s 11 hits and six of the nine starters scored at least one run. Combined, Nola and Hanover were 3-for-9 with three runs and three RBIs.
“We don’t want to get into the habit of counting on Katz and Rhymes to come through every time,” Mainieri said. “To be a good team you have to count on other guys in your lineup.
“I can’t emphasize enough that your older guys, the leaders of your team, the guys who have been through it for four years, they’re the ones who have to show the way and (Tuesday), I thought Nola and Hanover did.”
Those six unearned runs in the sixth inning were enough, despite the Wave’s three-run uprising in the eighth inning against freshman Cody Glenn.
Glenn was the only Tiger reliever who allowed an earned run in another game when Mainieri went by committee. Seven Tigers pitched, with Joe Broussard logging four effective innings as the starter and Brent Bonvillain notching his fourth victory.
The bottom line Tuesday was an important win on the heels of a loss to Georgia that Mainieri referred to “one that got away.”
“I was very concerned about this game because Tulane has an excellent club, and we had just finished an emotional series with Georgia,” he said. “But our players were focused and earned an important win.”
The Tigers are on the road this weekend at No. 24-ranked Ole Miss (29-16, 10-11 SEC), with the first pitch at 6:30 p.m. Friday.