COLUMBIA, S.C. – Most college athletes will toe the party line and obediently rehash the whole one-game-at-a-time mantra over and over.
So after he twirled a second consecutive complete game to lead the No. 9-ranked Tigers past No. 2 South Carolina Friday afternoon, Gausman didn’t hesitate to stray from the tried-and-true.
“This is something I had circled on my calendar before the season ever started,” Gausman said after limiting the Gamecocks (38-14, 17-10 SEC) to five hits. He struck out six and was dominant in stretches. “It was something I focused on – how cool will it be to pitch it against the two-time national champions in their place.”
Cool enough that Gausman’s performance vaulted LSU (41-13, 18-10) into a first-place tie with Kentucky for the overall league lead. The Tigers clinched the West Division crown on Friday when Vanderbilt downed Ole Miss 3-0 and will be no worse than the No. 2 seed at next week’s SEC Tournament.
The Tigers and Gamecocks are slated to play the second game of the series at 6 p.m. Friday, with CST broadcasting the contest.
LSU will go into that one with a chance to win the series, thanks to Gausman (9-1), catcher Jordy Snikeris and Mason Katz’s timely solo home run.
As good as Gausman was, it helped that he never had to pitch from behind as the Tigers touched up Carolina starter Michael Roth (5-1) for a run in the first inning.
|Jordy Snikeris: 2-out single in the 1st innings starts the LSU scoring, two-run HR in the 9th finishes it off.|
LSU got another unconventional run in the fourth inning when JaCoby Jones hustled out an infield single and Casey Yocom bunted him up a base but was retired for the second out. Light-hitting Arby Fields stepped in and pumped a two-out single to center field.
With Gausman cruising – he retired 11 straight after walking the first USC hitter of the game – the Gamecocks finally showed some offensive life in their half of the fourth.
Cleanup hitter BJ Dantzler dumped a soft liner into right field that Alex Edward dove for and nearly came up with, but it landed for a Carolina’s first hit. Gausman walked Grayson Greiner on a full-count pitch, but jumped ahead of Joey Pankake 0-and-2.
Pankake lunged at a breaking ball away on the third offering and got enough of the pitch to get it over Hanover’s head at third base for a single, scoring Dantzler to cut the LSU lead to 2-1.
It didn’t stay there long, though.
|Mason Katz: Blasts a solo HR right after USC closed the gap to 2-1.|
Katz came to bat with one out and ripped a 1-and-0 Roth pitch into the left-field seats, his 11th home run, to give the Tigers their two-run cushion right back.
“That was huge, especially when I give up that run and the next inning (Roth is) trying to put up a hoop (0),” Gausman said. “If he puts up a hoop, it’s a completely different game.”
Again staked a two-run cushion, Gausman settled back in.
Including the final out of South Carolina’s fourth inning, Gausman mowed down 12 hitters in a row and needed only 24 pitches to get the Gamecocks in order in the fifth, sixth and seventh frames.
“The kid looks like a Major League pitcher to me,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He doesn’t need much time. Not only does the kid have a great arm and he has the repertoire of pitches, he knows how to use them. He’s got command, he raises his game to another level when he needs to. I’ve seen that kid grow before my very eyes. He’s developed into something really special, I believe.”
Snikeris jacked out a two-run home run in the Tigers’ ninth inning to give Gausman a 5-1 cushion.
Evan Marzilli finally snapped the streak with a two-out single in the eighth inning and Pankake chased home a two-out run in the ninth, but Gausman was as in control has he has been in his two-year career.
LSU is 9-1 in SEC openers this season, nine with Gausman on the mound. Five of his victories have come in the first SEC game of a weekend.
“I’ve just felt good these last two weekends,” he said. “To be honest I haven’t had my best velocity but I hit my spots and had some movement with my fastball and my changeup has been really huge for me. I’ve been able to get them out with that in fastball situations.
“My changeup was probably the best it’s ever been today – kind of Bugs Bunny.
“It’s probably the biggest performance I’ve had since I’ve been in school because of the situation we’re in.”
It was far from a solo performance.
The Tigers’ defense was sold across the board and spectacular on a handful of plays behind their ace.
Nola handled five chances flawlessly – some not exactly routine –Katz came through with a pair of diving spears on balls destined for hits an Hanover also snared a line drive at third base.
“(Gausman) pitched a great game for us and that obviously set the tone, but we also had some outstanding defense,” Mainieri said. “Nola put a clinic on at shortstop. Nola can play shortstop as good as anybody I’ve seen at the collegiate level. Katz made a couple of outstanding plays over there and Hanover made a diving catch. on a line drive where he had to extend a little bit. I thought Jordy did a really good job behind the plate so it wasn’t a one-man operation. The whole team played very well. I’m really proud of them because obviously the stakes are so big here.”
“We’re playing the two-time defending national champion and with everything that goes with it. I thought our guys just showed a lot of poise and composure and I was just really proud of the way they went about their business.”