Erasing one bad memory can be a nice skill for a pitcher.
Repeating a productive at-bat is also an effective tool for a baseball player.
Blend those abilities together and good things are bound to result
No. 6-ranked LSU shrugged a recent mini-swoon on a later-than-usual Friday night with a 6-1 victory over Wichita State to begin a three-game series at Alex Box Stadium.
The recipe included Tigers’ ace Alex Lange bouncing back from the worst outing of his career with one of the more dominant performances in his three seasons and a trio of veterans at the top of the batting order harassing Shockers’ starter Willie Schwanke every time they got a chance.
Lange lasted just 1.2 innings against TCU a week earlier, exiting after two home runs put him and LSU in a 6-4 hole. On Friday, after a 2½-hour delay for rain and lightning, there were no remnants of that struggle.
With his spike curve ball working, an occasional knee-buckling changeup mixed in and velocity that hovered in the 92-94 mph range all night, Lange was downright nasty. He struck out five of the first nine batters he faced (four looking), 9 overall and cruised through 4 perfect innings.
Wichita State cleanup man Alex Bohm rolled a leadoff single through the middle in the 5th to end the notion of a no-hitter, but Lange quickly erased him when he snared a comebacker off of Trey Vickers’ bat and triggered a 1-6-3 double play.
A weak grounder ended that frame and Lange hummed through 3 more innings and left after facing one batter over the minimum (25 in 8 innings).
“Fastball command is the key,” Lange said after he lowered his ERA from 4.94 to 3.05 with 8 scoreless innings. “If you have fastball command, you have success.”
There was plenty of that for the big right-hander, a notorious creature of pre-game habit who had to adjust on the fly when the game was pushed back as lightning strikes peppered the campus area.
Sure couldn’t tell Lange was anything close to out of sorts, though. And the Shockers (8-4) never came close to posing a serious threat against him.
“There was never any doubt about Lange coming out and re-establishing himself and the way he knew he could throw,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “That’s the one thing about Alex Lange: He’s as mentally tough as any player I’ve ever had. His confidence doesn’t fluctuate depending on what he did his outing before or his inning before or his pitch before. He always has the feel that he’s going to get it going and make the next big pitch.”
While Lange kept firing one big pitch after another, the combination of Cole Freeman, Antoine Duplantis and Greg Deichmann inflicted all the damage their starter needed, and the Tigers wasted no time working generating a lead for their ace.
Moved to the leadoff spot for the first time this season, Kramer Robertson paid immediate dividends when he wiggled a seeing-eye single through the left side of the infield in the bottom of the 1st inning. With Freeman trying to bunt Robertson up, Schwanke threw a wild pitch to do the job for LSU.
Freeman did lay a bunt down to get Robertson to third with one out and Duplantis – the new 3-hole batter – ripped a double down the right-field line to plate Robertson for the 1-0 lead.
“The only thing different mentally is that I’m trying to drive guys in instead of getting on base and moving guys over,” said Duplantis, who added a second RBI single in the 3rd inning. “I go up there with the same approach I always do. I don’t want to change anything.”
That Freeman-Duplantis-Deichmann combination was far from finished after the moderate opening salvo.
Schwanke got into a brief comfort zone with a scoreless 2nd frame and then retired Robertson to open the 3rd. But Freeman pounced on the first pitch he got in his at-bat and rifled a double into the left-field corner.
Duplantis got behind 1-and-2 but zapped an opposite-field sinking liner to left field that Freeman read perfectly, never slowed down rounding third base and slid in safely in front of the throw to the plate. Duplantis also read the play well and motored to second base.
With Deichmann at the dish, Duplantis scooted up to third on a wild pitch and sprinted home when LSU’s cleanup man punched a hot shot through the left side of a drawn-in infield to extend the lead to 3-0.
After a scoreless 4th inning, LSU went on the assault again. Schwanke retired Robertson on a fly ball to center to start the 5th, but Freeman dumped a single into right field and dashed to second when WSU’s Greyson Jenista bobbled the ball for a split second.
Duplantis produced his third hit with a runner in scoring position in as many tries when he rammed a base hit past the shortstop, although the ball was smacked too sharply for Freeman to score this time.
No worries, because when Schwanke tried to groove a first-pitch fastball to Deichmann, he sent a rocket over the fence in right-center field that measured 421 feet and plated three runs for a 6-0 cushion.
“It was just a fastball that he left over the plate and I was able to get it pretty good,” Deichmann said of his 6th home run this season.
Added Mainieri, who has made a habit of marveling at his junior right fielder’s raw power, “I don’t how that man hits the ball so far and so hard. … He’s just a powerful human being and hits the ball as hard as anybody I’ve ever known.”
The Shockers finally quieted the Tigers after that, but the damage done in the first 5 innings was plenty. Freeman, Duplantis and Deichmann teamed up to go 7-for-11 with 5 runs and all 6 RBIs – 2 for Duplantis and 4 for Deichmann.
Robertson’s 1st-inning single was the Tigers’ only other hit as the 5-9 hitters were a collective 0-for-18.
“We had four guys in the lineup swing the bat really well and that was enough for (Friday),” Mainieri said. “We’d like to have a little more balance Saturday and Sunday.”
Game 2 of the series has been shifted to 1 p.m. Saturday (originally scheduled for 6:30 p.m.) in an effort to avoid inclement weather forecast for the area. LSU senior Jared Poche (3-0, 0.00) looks to continue his incredible start to the season and will face Shockers’ junior southpaw Cody Tyler (2-1, 3.86).