Paul Mainieri had informed him he’d make his second career start in less than four hours to decide the series against Auburn. LSU was without two of its regular weekend guys (Alex Lange arm fatigue, Jake Godfrey demoted) and needed to piece together Sunday’s Game 3 on the mound.
So Mainieri turned to Person, who’s served as LSU’s setup man this season. He’d made a similar spot start last season against Florida, but that didn’t go so well. Sunday was a much better result as Person got No. 3 LSU (31-6, 10-5 SEC) going en route to a 6-2, series-clinching victory against Auburn (21-15, 5-10).
“It caught me completely by surprise,” Person said of getting the start. “[Coach] told me to treat every inning like it was the eighth. I just ran with that mentality, and it worked.”
Person worked three scoreless innings and earned the win. He ended two innings with a strikeout and allowed only three batters to reach base. Only one made it into scoring position, but Person left Auburn hitless once he did.
“Last night, I went to bed not knowing who we were going to pitch,” Mainieri said. “I just had this feeling Zac Person was the right guy…I didn’t think he was exceptionally sharp, but he did the job for us.”Parker Bugg and Jesse Stallings combined to take it the rest of the way. Each pitcher surrendered a run, but that wasn’t enough for Auburn to overtake LSU.
That’s because the home team got off to a fast start at the plate.
LSU did all its damage offensively in the first three innings, getting it started with consecutive doubles to open the game. The second came from Mark Laird to score Chris Sciambra. Alex Bregman followed that with a single, and Chris Chinea’s groundout made it 2-0 after one inning.
Jake Fraley made it 3-0 in the second, bringing in a run on a fielder’s choice.
LSU doubled its lead with a three-run third. Laird started it off with a single, and a walk and hit batter loaded the bases. Kade Scivicque brought in the first run with a single to right. Another scored on a wild pitch, and an error by the third baseman made it 6-0 after three.
“It’s a different kind of nervousness when you get a lead and you’re trying to hold on all game,” Mainieri said. “But if given the choice, I’d much rather get the lead.”
The LSU bats went quiet after that though. The Tigers didn’t get a base runner following a leadoff single in the fourth, a streak of 15 straight at-bats.
LSU for the most part struggled at the plate all weekend. The Tigers combined for just 20 hits in the series, its lowest total in an SEC series this season by a wide margin.
But LSU picked up two victories anyway, and that means more than the number of hits.
“We didn’t swing the bats like we’ve been swinging it,” Mainieri said. “And yet we still won two out of three games, so that’s encouraging. What we need to do now is look forward to getting better.”
LSU’s now at the midway point of the SEC schedule, winners in four out of five series. The Tigers still trail Texas A&M for the lead in the SEC West, but that big series comes to Alex Box Stadium in just two weeks.
Next up for LSU is a Wednesday meeting with Lamar, weather permitting, before a road trip to Georgia next weekend.
“You go into the year believing if you can win two out of ever three, you’ve got a shot at winning the SEC Championship,” Mainieri said. “Who knows what’s going to happen in the second half? But at least at this point, we’re on target.”