Strong start? Check. Strong finish? Check.
And in between, LSU got a masterful performance from an ace who has ridden a rollercoaster this season.
The end result of all that Thursday was a much-needed 8-2 victory against Alabama at Sewell-Thomas Stadium to launch a three-game series.
The Tigers poked four 1st-inning singles to generate three runs and then put the game away with a three-run 9th, with Mike Papierski drawing a bases-loaded walk and Antoine Duplantis finally breaking through with a clutch hit after a bevy missed chances for LSU to do so throughout the night.
Cole Freeman showed signs of thawing out with a 3-for-5 night, Nick Coomes finished with a pair of hits and chased in two runs and the No. 11/15-ranked Tigers (28-15, 11-8 SEC) got stout pitching from Lange, Nick Bush and Matthew Beck to down the Crimson Tide.
Lange struck out 10 in 7.1 innings and allowed a pair of runs on basically his only mistake of the night – a first-pitch fastball that Alabama catcher Alex Webb hammered out of the ballpark in the 2nd inning.
Other than that, Lange (5-4) was in firm command with two strikeouts in each of the first 4 innings and more reliance on his knack to get out of trouble: Other than the homer, Alabama was 0-for-6 against Lange with runners in scoring position.
That was a problem area for the Tigers as well, although the early lead gave them cushion to work with.
Surprise leadoff hitter Beau Jordan legged out an infield single to begin the 1st inning and Freeman yanked his first hit of the night into left field. Tide lefty Dylan Duarte got Greg Deichmann on a chopper to first base, but Coomes rolled a single through the six hole for a run, Robertson duplicated that for another run and Josh Smith’s hot shot to second base with the bags full yielded another run.
That was as flashy as the Tigers got until the 9th inning.
LSU chipped away with single runs in the 3rd and 4th frames – Coomes’ leadoff double turned into a tally on Jordan Romero’s single and Duplantis dashed home when Alabama center fielder Walker McCleney lost Coomes’ bases-loaded fly ball in the early evening haze, resulting in a strange 8-5 fielder’s choice.
After producing three hits in the first seven at-bats with a runner at second or third base, LSU was 0-for-10 until Duplantis shanked an 0-and-2 pitch from Tide reliever Mike Oczypok down the left-field line to plate Romero and Smith – two of the four batters who walked in the at-bat.
Alabama (15-27, 2-17) its only real serious threat against Lange in the 7th inning after Cody Henry led off with a single and Hunter Alexander following with a base hit, the only time all night the Tide collected consecutive hits. Lange buckled down with a ground ball to second, a foul out to first base and a flyout to shallow right.
The Tide got another leadoff single in the 8th, but Lange got three-hole batter Cobie Vance on a fly ball to center before Bush entered and snuffed out the threat with a 3-6 fielder’s choice and a strikeout vs. Henry.
Beck wrapped things up with a pair if strikeouts, the Tigers’ 12th and 13th, in the Alabama 9th.
Game 2 is set for 6 p.m. Friday and will be televised on the SEC Network. Senior Jared Poche (6-3, 3.28 ERA) gets the ball for the Tigers against Tide senior right-hander Nick Eicholtz (1-1, 5.49).
LSU at Alabama
Game 1 | LSU 8, Alabama 2
Game 2 | 6 p.m. Friday
Game 3 | 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Sewell-Thomas Stadium | Tuscaloosa, Ala.
RECORDS: LSU 28-15, 11-8 SEC; Alabama 15-27, 2-17
RADIO: 98.1-FM (Baton Rouge)
TV/LIVESTREAM: SEC Network, SEC Network+, WatchESPN.com
ON THE WEB: TigerBlitz.com
TWITTER: @RandyRosetta, @BillyEmbody, @LSUBaseball
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS
Friday | LSU, Sr. LH Jared Poche (6-3, 3.28 ERA, 60.1 IP, 44 SO/15 BB, .228 OBA) vs. Alabama, Sr. RH Nick Eicholtz (1-1, 5.49 ERA, 41 IP, 23 SO/25 BB, .290 OBA)
Saturday | LSU, Fr. Eric Walker (5-1, 3.49 ERA, 56.2 IP, 52 SO/13 BB, .232 OBA) vs. Alabama, TBA