In a sport where numbers and milestones carry so much significance, the bottom-line result for 4th-ranked LSU was mattered most Tuesday night against Nicholls State.
The Tigers finally stemmed a Colonels’ ninth-inning rally when closer Nick Goody struck out the last two hitters representing the tying run to finish a second straight wobbly outing with a better outcome.
That capped a 9-6 triumph at Alex Box Stadium which allowed LSU to go unbeaten in mid-week games for the first time in program history and also reach the 40-win plateau in the regular season for the second time in coach Paul Mainieri’s six-year tenure and only the fourth time since 1998.
No. 40 wasn’t easy for the Tigers (40-13) and it required contributions from several players – much like this season when they have climbed back into the upper echelon.
Nicholls State (25-26) pushed four runs across the plate in the ninth inning, getting to LSU’s two back-end relievers, Nick Rumbelow and Goody for four hits.
All that drama came after a nice gesture by Mainieri when he sent reserves Evan Powell and Casey Yocom out to replace the senior cornerstones of the infield, Austin Nola and Tyler Hanover, right before the final inning commenced.
|Tyler Hanover: 2-for-3 and an RBI in LSU's 9-6 win|
Nola and Hanover – starters since their freshmen seasons – got a standing ovation from the Box crowd.
“It was special,” said Nola, who batted leadoff again and went 4-for-4 with 2 runs scored and an RBI. In the two games since he took over the top spot, Nola is 6-for-6, and has reached base in nine of 10 plate appearances with 3 walks, 3 runs and 3 RBIs. “I really didn’t have a clue Coach was going to do it.”
The tribute to his two seniors almost backfired on Mainieri when the Colonels started chipping away.
But those two, along with junior Mason Katz, had helped build enough of a cushion to survive Nicholls’ late flurry.
The Colonels slipped in front 2-0 against LSU starter Kurt McCune with single runs in the second and third innings, with Beau Falk lining a single to center field to produce the first run and leadoff man Phillip Lyons scoring on a ground ball for the second.
While those two nicks left the Tigers trailing, the fact that McCune found a way to limit the damage and then later pitched out of trouble in the fifth inning after surrendering back-to-back two-out hits were part of the fabric of a positive outing for the sophomore.
He got his third win of the season with five workmanlike frames and likely earned a future shot as a starter when LSU needs one.
|Kurt McCune: Notched 5 solid innings to claim his 3rd win|
“I started getting a feeling that I haven’t had in a while and the opportunity to come out and throw a lot of pitches definitely helped,” said McCune, who hadn’t logged more than an inning in any of his previous eight outings. “It was definitely a plus to be able to get out of trouble without putting up any crooked numbers.”
Added Mainieri, “He had a couple of really good innings and in the innings where he was in trouble, he pitched in the clutch really well and got some big outs.”
The inability to match McCune’s tenacity proved to be Colonels’ pitcher Mike Wisecarver’s undoing.
Trailing 2-0, the Tigers peppered Wisecarver for five runs, sending 10 hitters to the plate.
Arby Fields started it off by reaching on an error, and Nola followed with his second hit in as many at-bats when he dropped a base hit into right field. Making his first start since April 3, Jackson Slaid chased in the first run with his first hit since April 13, and LSU was off and running.
Katz rifled a double to the fence in right-center field to send Nola scurrying home with the tying run and when Lyons’ relay throw sailed high, Slaid dashed home for the go-ahead run.
Wisecarver endured two more innings without allowing another run, but LSU came back to life in the sixth inning against another southpaw, reliever Brad Delatte from St. Amant.
Nola laced another single to center field, Slaid walked and Katz unloaded a no-doubt three-run home run into the seats in left-center field, his 10th of the season.
“I got that one pretty good,” said Katz, who finished with 4 RBIs. He also scored twice to climb into a tie for the SEC lead in runs scored with Kentucky’s Austin Cousino.
“(Delatte) threw me four sliders in a row and I was trying to get a good pitch to hit. I had two strikes and I was trying to keep it short and he left a fastball a little bit up.”
|Joe Broussard: 2 shutout innings out of the bullpen|
Berry took over for McCune in the sixth and notched a 1-2-3 inning with a pair of strikeouts. Broussard hung up two more 0s, working around Lyons’ one-out single in the seventh and striking out three.
Like McCune, Broussard is a leading candidate for a postseason starting spot for when and of LSU needs a fourth starter.
“I just went out there and tried to keep the ball down and get ground balls and let my defense play for me,” Broussard said.
As effective as Berry and Broussard were, Rumbelow and Goody were the opposite.
With the Tigers’ cushion 9-2 after Hanover drove in a run in the eighth inning with his second hit, Rumbelow came on and quickly fanned the first Nicholls hitter in the ninth.
But pinch-hitters Adam Seal and Kevin Persick gave the Colonels two runners on with a single and a walk, prompting Mainieri to summon Goody.
Two days after he allowed a game-tying home run to Vanderbilt in the ninth inning and the game-winning run in the 10th, Goody again struggled to slam the door. Four straight hitters got solid hits off him, culminating with Blake Bergeron’s double that cut the lead to 9-6 and put runners on second and third with one out – suddenly putting LSU in a precarious spot.
After a visit from pitching coach Alan Dunn, Goody buckled down and struck out Michael LeGrange looking and Austin Flores swinging to put the fire out and send the Tigers into a massive weekend series at South Carolina in a good mood.
“We came out and did some things well and then had to scratch and work to finish it off, and that’s going to help us this weekend,” Katz said. “This was a good test for us and should get us ready for South Carolina.”