When a baseball team navigates a long schedule covering 56 games, there is bound to be a lot of repetition and familiar circumstance along the way.
Sometimes, though, something a little new and different pops up.
That was the case Sunday for No. 4-ranked LSU when it closed out a weekend series against Maryland at Alex Box Stadium.
And like teams with top-shelf aspirations tends to do, the Tigers adjusted nicely to a new situation.
For the first time this season, LSU found itself staring at a multi-run deficit in the 1st inning after the Terrapins touched up freshman pitcher Eric Walker for a pair of home runs and a three-run cushion.
Undaunted, the Tigers got their offense revving in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th innings to barrel to a 9-5 victory and series sweep.
Unlike the previous six home games this season, LSU (7-1) didn’t play from the driver’s seat start to finish after Zach Jancarski’s leadoff solo homer and Will Watson’s two-out two-run bomb staked the Terps (1-5) to a 3-0 lead.
“It was good for us to be tested, especially to go down very early like that,” said senior second baseman Cole Freeman, who was 3-for-3 with a pair of less-than-ordinary hits during the Tigers’ game-changing 3-inning onslaught.
“It shows our maturing something we didn’t have early last year. It tells us a little about ourselves.”
UM freshman left-hander Tyler Blohm kept LSU in check with a scoreless 1st, but that was the last quiet inning he encountered.
Greg Deichmann, who had a big and somewhat eventful day, drew a leadoff walk in the 2nd inning and rambled home when Rankin Woley hammered a 3-and-0 Blohm offering for an RBI double to center field.
Woley scored the second run of the inning when Josh Smith whipped another double down the right-field line and the Tigers’ comeback was in progress.
Freeman started the 3rd by popping a ball up between the mound and third-base line that third baseman A.J. Lee either lost in the sun or wind and misread, allowing it to land for a single. Freeman dashed up a base on a wild pitch and sprinted around on Kramer Robertson’s double into the left-field corner to knot the score, 3-3.
A walk to Deichmann, an error on Lee off the bat of Woley and Smith taking a pitch in his flank with the bases loaded put the Tigers in front 4-3. The lead grew when, on the first pitch he saw, Mike Papierski yanked a two-run single through the six-hole for a 6-3 LSU lead.
To cap the five-run round, Freeman took a big swing and dribbled a roller 20 feet down the third-base line for an RBI infield single.
“I got on base twice and when we were in the dugout, I told one of the guys ‘I don’t know what I did right to get on base,’ ” Freeman said with a smile. “I hit two balls maybe 15 feet total and got two hits. It was sort of indicative of the weekend we had as a team. We had a lot of hits fall at the right time.”
Meanwhile, Walker recovered and showed some grit to keep LSU in control. Though not as sharp as his debut the week before, the young Texan battled nicely after the rugged beginning.
He got the Terrapins 1-2-3 in the 2nd, got an assist when Papierski gunned down Jancarski trying to steal third base in the 2nd, struck out Watson the second time around and then weathered a two-out bases-loaded jam he helped create with two walks by coaxing a fly ball off Nick Dunn’s bat on a breaking ball.
Walker didn’t log enough innings for his second win, but the tenacity he revealed didn’t go unnoticed.
“Eric Walker showed a lot of courage after getting hammered around in the 1st inning, giving up two home runs and then throwing 3 shutout innings,” Mainieri said.
Added Freeman, “The way Eric came back from that 1st inning was really a big part of the story of this game.”
So was Deichmann’s ongoing penchant for prodigious home runs.
After Robertson started the LSU 4th by ripping a single to left field, Deichmann got ahead of side-winding Maryland reliever Ryan Selmar 3-and-1 before unloading a clout that was measured at 451 feet as it soared over the fence in right-center field.
Deichmann stopped briefly to watch the ball fly out, tossed his bat toward the dugout before he began his trot and rounded the bases. Terps’ catcher Dan Maynard voiced some displeasure as Deichmann got home and the LSU right fielder turned and returned the chatter briefly before he was pulled back to the dugout by Robertson.
“The emotions of the game,” Deichmann said, shrugging off the exchange. “I’m fired up, he’s fired up. They were down at the time, and I could see some frustration.”
The next time Deichmann came up, he said he tapped Maynard on the back to make sure there were no hard feelings. There didn’t seem to be, but there was also very little offense for LSU after that and that left the door cracked open for the Terps.
The Tigers managed only three more hits and Freeman was the only man who reached scoring position in the last 4-plus innings.
Maryland struggled to get revved back up as well, especially when sophomore Caleb Gilbert took over in the 5th inning.
The righthander was razor-sharp, facing six UM batters and striking out all of them, with a fastball regularly clocked in the 95-96 mph range.
“I just wanted to fill up the zone, attack hitters and put up zeroes,” said Gilbert, who got the win. “Get that first out and put the cleat on the throat and keep going.”
The Terrapins celebrated Gilbert’s exit when Kevin Biondic greeted Doug Norman with a leadoff single in the 7th to set the table for a tw0-run inning that closed the gap to 9-5.
The worse news of the inning, though, was when Norman dropped to a knee to the side of mound in obvious pain. Mainieri said after the game that it was an issue with Norman’s elbow.
“The most disheartening thing of the day was Doug Norman getting hurt,” Mainieri said. “You fear the worst possible thing and it makes you sick to your stomach to see that happen to a young man.”
Maryland threatened again in the 8th when LSU freshman Nick Bush walked three batters in a row after Hunter Kiel recorded two quick outs. Tigers’ closer Hunter Newman entered and put the fire out when he coaxed three-hole batter Marty Costes into a fielder’s choice. Newman recorded his first save of the season with a scoreless 9th inning after issuing a leadoff walk.
The late-game drama was a fitting end to a game that put the Tigers to a test they needed, especially with a tough mid-week test coming against Nicholls State and a three-game trip to Houston for the Shriners Hospitals For Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park, where the Tigers will tangle with No. 1-ranked TCU, Baylor and Texas Tech.
“Anybody can play with a lead when there is no pressure,” Freeman said. “We needed to feel a little pressure and see how we responded. I think we did pretty well.”
LSU and Nicholls get started at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at The Box. Zach Hess will get his second mid-week start against the Colonels (4-3).