LSU escapes Baylor with 2-0 victory

LSU overcame early struggles at the plate to pull out a 2-0 victory against Baylor at the Houston College Classic, holding off a ninth-inning charge from the Bears

HoustonLSU waited a long time for its first run against Baylor.

LSU hadn’t gone more than five consecutive innings without a run this season, but the Tigers didn’t finally break through until the eighth Saturday. That patience paid off though, as LSU edged out Baylor for a 2-0 win at the Houston College Classic.

But the victory didn’t come without pressure.

Baylor loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth with LSU clinging to its two-run lead. The majority of the fans in Minute Maid Park were decked out in purple and gold, providing an atmosphere similar to a tournament game in Alex Box.

And Jesse Stallings’ game-clinching strikeout sent them into a frenzy.

“I was worried our guys were going to start getting a little frustrated,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “They really showed their maturity today.”

That celebration was long overdue, as the fans sat through seven long innings of scoreless ball.

LSU finally broke the tie with a run in the eighth. Mark Laird got it started with a double to left, LSU’s first hit since the fourth. Alex Bregman followed that with an infield single to put runners on the corners.

Conner Hale delivered the go-ahead run two at-bats later with a sacrifice fly to center.

“It wasn’t the deepest fly ball either,” Hale said. “But you have Laird over there, and he’s one of the fastest guys in the league.”

The Tigers added a bit of cushion in the ninth. Andrew Stevenson led off the inning with a triple, his fourth of the season. Kramer Robertson delivered an RBI-single to left and doubled LSU’s lead.

That set up the very tense, final half-inning.

Stallings entered after Alex Lange and Zac Person combined to work eight scoreless innings. The LSU closer was searching for his seventh save in as many opportunities, but this one was a bit harder than the previous six.

Stallings walked the leadoff man, and he stole second. Baylor LF Kameron Esthay sent a grounder to short, and Bregman got the lead runner at third for the first out. 3B Jonathan Ducoff singled to left to put runners on the corners, and Stallings walked Logan Brown to load the bases.

But Stallings battled back and struck out Darryn Sheppard on a changeup that just grazed the outside corner.

“It was a little off the plate,” Stallings said. “I had made a pitch like that earlier, and he didn’t call it. But when he called it, my eyes lit up.”

That wasn’t the only jam LSU managed to escape against Baylor.

Freshman Alex Lange found himself in a couple. Baylor didn’t get a runner into scoring position against him until the sixth inning after a one-out single and stolen base. Lange walked the next batter to put two on with the game still tied 0-0.

Lange struck out C Cameron Miller, then induced a pop fly to first base to end the inning.

Baylor had the same situation in the next inning, with runners on first and second, one out. But Lange got a pair of ground balls to third base to escape that inning as well.

“That’s how you grow,” Mainieri said. “You’ve got to pitch your way out of those jams if you’re going to be a starting pitcher…You can see the greatness in Alex already.”

He finished with a career-high seven innings pitched, surrendering no runs on seven hits with four strikeouts and two walks.

“It’s something that’s unforgettable,” Lange said. “Pitching at the Box is something special, but pitching here is a completely different stage.”

LSU has one game left in this major league ballpark. The Tigers complete their stint at the Houston College Classic on Sunday against Nebraska. Jake Godfrey will take the mound in his final start before SEC play.

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