Great pitching, poor hitting or somewhere in the middle.
There was a little of all of that Thursday night when LSU and Texas A&M locked up in an early start to an SEC weekend at Alex Box Stadium.
For the floundering Tigers, there was too much of the final two and that trumped another virtuoso performance by Alex Lange as LSU’s malaise persisted in a 4-0 loss.
Aggies’ pitcher Brigham Hill limited the Tigers (18-8, 4-3 SEC) to three singles in 8 innings of work and closer Mitchell Kilkenny worked around Cole Freeman’s leadoff base hit in the 9th to slam the door.
Not that the door was exactly cracked open real wide by that point.
Texas A&M (18-9, 2-5) didn’t fare a whole lot better against Lange, who gutted out 8 innings by striking out 12 and refusing to budge in eight Aggies’ at-bats with runners in scoring position. They whiffed on all eight against Lange, with six strikeouts.
Problem was, LSU never came close to creating scoring threats until the 9th and that was pretty much a whimper after the fact.
All the Tigers managed in the first 7 innings was Josh Smith’s opposite-field single with one out in the 2nd – and he was caught stealing. – and Zach Watson’s liner to left field in the 4th.
Hill mowed down 10 LSU hitters in a row after Watson’s single, walked Antoine Duplantis to start the 7th and then went 2 more inning with no damage done by inducing a 6-4-3 double play against Jake Slaughter after Beau Jordan collected the Tigers’ first hit to lead off an inning in the 8th.
“When you don’t score any runs, it’s hard to win a game,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We’re obviously in a rut offensively. We just need to come out of it.”
For one more day, the wait continues.
Shut out for the second time in the last four games and rendered frustrated for the fourth time in five, the Tigers are undoubtedly in an offensive funk.
An 8th-inning power surge at Florida seemed to portend that LSU was thawing out. Right now that looks like fool’s gold.
“It’s easy to say ‘Don’t press,’ but this game is tough,” said Freeman, who was 1-for-4. His 9th-inning single was all the top four hitters in LSU’s order mustered (1-for-15).
“We came out in the 1st inning and all three guys hit the ball hard but right at somebody. You start saying ‘Damn, is that cloud still over us?’ You’ve just got to shrug it off as much as you can and fight through.”
Lange did plenty of that in a second consecutive gritty start when the LSU offense has failed to produce a single run behind him.
Though not dominant, Lange showed a knack that has been missing at times this season for working out of trouble.
The Aggies produced two-out hits in each of the first three frames but came up empty-handed. Joel Davis started the 4th with a single and moved to second base on an errant pickoff throw but Lange struck out the side to strand the runner.
The 5th inning was the only time Lange was unable to totally evade damage. With one out, nine-hole hitter Coll Stanley whipped a single to center field and on a 1-and-0 pitch, leadoff man Nick Choruby deposited a home run just out of right fielder Greg Deichmann’s reach in right-center for a 2-0 lead.
“He got enough of it and got it into the wind,” Lange said. “I’ve just got to execute that pitch better.”
The junior right-hander finished with much more better than worse in his third loss of the season.
Following Choruby’s blast, Lange got the next two outs and in the 6th showed some maturity by refusing to buckle when the Aggies had a chance to blow the game open.
Davis again started an inning with a single and Blake Kopesky followed suit after a strikeout. With those two in scoring position after a wild pitch, Lange struck out the next two hitters – Logan Foster with the infield in.
After blazing through the next frame with three strikeouts, Lange was back in trouble in the 8th when Braden Shewmake burned Duplantis in center field for a leadoff double. Davis moved him to third with a grounder to the right side, but Lange fanned George Janca on a called third strike and first baseman Jake Slaughter made a nice play, sliding right to grab a hot shot and tossed to Lange for the third out.
“Couple of times this year, I’ve struggled to get out of those situations and if you don’t pitch out of it, your night is over pretty quickly,” Lange said.
Lange’s ability to do so over and over wasn’t lost on Mainieri.
“I thought Alex Lange was phenomenal,” he said.
“He made an awful lot of big pitches and ended up with a lot of strikeouts and gave us a chance to win.”
That chance evaporated in the 9th when Freeman committed un uncharacteristic error to swing the door open for two more A&M runs, both scoring on Cole Bedford’s bases-loaded single off of Matthew Beck.
Freeman gave the Tigers a glimmer of hope when he started the home 9th with a base hit, but Kilkenny retired Duplantis and Kramer Robertson on routine fly balls and then caught cleanup hitter Greg Deichmann looking at a borderline third strike – the Tiger slugger’s third K of the game, the second looking.
“We have to come out and be more aggressive,” Mainieri said. “We’re not going to the plate with a lot of confidence right now.”
Game 2 is slated for 8 p.m. Friday. LSU will send senior Jared Poche (5-1, 0.90 ERA) to the hill against A&M sophomore Stephen Kolek (1-1, 5.23).