Hitting the baseball, as the cliché goes, is one of the hardest things to do in sports.
That holds true in the most ideal of conditions. Interject some tricky weather conditions and the difficult level is magnified.
So when 6th-ranked LSU and Wichita State took the field Sunday to wrap up their three-game series at Alex Box Stadium, some ingenuity was required.
The Tigers improvised nicely from the outset, again put the pressure on the Shockers with a quick lead and got another grind-it-out effort from a starting pitcher to surge to a 9-2 victory and a series sweep.
Antoine Duplantis chased in four runs with a pair of two-run singles, Kramer Robertson and Cole Freeman each had two hits and combined to score five times and LSU kept building on a three-run 1st inning to keep the pressure on.
Meanwhile, freshman starter Eric Walker kept shrugging off whatever pressure Wichita State managed to apply and logged 6 shutout innings to nab his second win of the season.
“It was a good way to end the weekend,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I thought we played really well the whole weekend. We played with a lot of intensity and they really did just about everything we wanted them to do this weekend, including getting three wins against a good solid ball club, so I’m really proud of them.”
For good reason.
The Tigers (12-4) outscored the Shockers 27-8, and the three starting pitchers combined to log 21 scoreless innings with only 9 hits allowed.
The LSU offense, which scuffled in a 1-2 showing in Houston and a 5-4 mid-week loss at McNeese State, rediscovered some mojo – especially the first three batters in a reshuffled deck.
Much like the first two games of the series, Robertson, Freeman and Duplantis led the charge with a chock-full stat line: They were 6-for-12 with 6 runs and 5 RBIs.
More importantly, those three all followed the plan Mainieri and hitting coach Micah Gibbs prescribed to combat cool and windy conditions.
“Obviously days like (Sunday), with the wind blowing in, it’s tough to go after the long ball, so you have to really aim your sights down and drive the ball through the infield and the first 5 innings we really did that,” said Freeman, who lashed line-drive hits in two of his first three at-bats. “It’s cool when you can have a game plan and stick to it and actually execute it.”
Added Mainieri, “I told our players that the key (Sunday) was going to be to keep the ball out of the air. The ball wasn’t going to travel anywhere. I think in the first 4 innings we had 7 or 8 hits, which I think about 6 or 7 of them were smashes through the infield.”
Indeed, the method the LSU coaches laid out was solid and looked better because it was executed well.
The Tigers jumped in front 3-0 in the 1st inning when Robertson ripped a leadoff single to left, Freeman pumped a hit-and-run double in the same vicinity and Duplantis deposited a liner into the right-field grass to chase both runners home.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Chris Reid rifled a grounder up the middle that WSU pitcher Zach Lewis tried to glove and knocked into no-man’s land in the infield for an infield RBI single.
That early approach set the tone.
After that, LSU’s hitters found success when they hit the ball hard on the ground or on line drives with two runs in each of the 3rd, 4th and 5th anchored by another perfectly executed hit-and-run by Robertson and Freeman and Duplantis’ second 2-run single.
“I think the whole key for us offensively (Sunday) was just a really good approach where the guys’ body language was to try to keep the ball out of the air,” Mainieri said.
And sending Walker out to keep the Shockers in check was decent strategy as well.
Though not overpowering as Alex Lange on Friday or precise around the strike zone as Jared Poche on Saturday, Walker flashed the same kind of bulldog mentality whenever he needed to.
Wichita State put at least one runner on base in each of the first 5 frames and posed serious threats in the 1st and 2nd innings but Walker persevered.
He worked around a pair of two-out walks in the 1st and hitting the 8-hole batter in the 2nd on the way to standing all seven hitters who reached – three in scoring position. WSU was 0-for-5 in chances to drive in a runner from second base.
“Not overpowering stuff, but he made some good pitches when he needed to and was able to get out of jams,” Mainieri said.
By doing so, Walker finished off what might’ve been the best weekend performance so far by both the Tigers’ three starting pitchers and the team in general.
“We just got back on the pace we wanted to be, slowed the game down, took it one pitch at a time,” Freeman said. “The starting pitching was unbelievable, and when it’s that unbelievable, we just try to play as good a defense as we can behind them. The bats woke back up, and I think we just started clicking again.”
Now the Tigers head into their final five-game week of the season, with visits from Louisiana College on Tuesday and New Orleans on Wednesday as a segue into the opening weekend of SEC play when Georgia comes to town.
The Tigers and Wildcats get started at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in a game that was scheduled to replace a rained-out game against San Diego last week.