Sometimes a plan comes together quite nicely and when the opposing team plays its part, well, that’s just a little icing on the cake.
LSU ace Alex Lange took the mound at Alex Box Stadium intending to be aggressive around the strike zone vs. Auburn in the opening game of a key SEC series between two of the league’s frontrunners.
With Lange on his game– with fastball and curveball command at his disposal – Auburn played its role by taking swings early and often.Very few of those swings were effective, though, as Lange pieced together perhaps his best outing of the season in a 4-0 triumph.
A key was how nasty Lange’s variety of curve balls were, especially early in counts. He struck out 9, most on breaking balls and often after he had twisted the Auburn batter in knows.
“I just had a good feel for it and was able to throw it for strikes,” Lange said after nabbing his 6th win in what has been a rollercoaster final season. “
“When they’re swing early, I’m O.K. with that. As long as we’re attacking the zone, we can keep guys honest.”
What made that scenario more favorable for LSU was an early lead, particularly with how Auburn reliever Game Klobosits performed.
Auburn starter Andrew Mitchell wasn’t as fortunate and he hurt himself just as badly as LSU did.
Mitchell walked Kramer Robertson on four pitches to start the LSU 1st inning and after Cole Freeman scorched a line drive that AU second baseman Jay Estes made a diving catch on for the first out, Antoine Duplantis rammed a single to center field to put runners on the corners
LSU slugger Greg Deichmann wasted no time, punching another ball to center field on the first pitch he saw that twisted away from center fielder Jonah Todd for an RBI single.
With an 0-and-2 count on Nick Coomes, Mitchell dug his hole deeper when he plunked the LSU first baseman and then walked DH Beau Jordan after a gritty at-bat to force in a run. Josh Smith chased home a third run with a sacrifice fly.
“It’s always nice pitching with a lead early,” Lange said. “You don’t have to be as fine. That team was real aggressive. They’re a good hitting team and they had an aggressive game plan. I just wanted to let them put the ball in play and let the defense work.”
LSU (33-17, 16-9 SEC) nudged the lead to 4-0 an inning later when Duplantis followed another walk to Robertson and Freeman’s one-out sacrifice bunt by cranking a double over right fielder Daniel Robert’s head.
That was all LSU got and it was plenty because Lange put a cleat on Auburn’s chest and didn’t budge.
AU (32-19, 14-11) produced only one leadoff hit and didn’t put multiple runners on base until the 8th inning.
“Lange was huge,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. “He pitched well. I’ll give him a lot of credit for getting ahead of our guys, and no walks, that was huge. We never really got to him.”
In the 4th inning, Mitchell walked his fifth batter in the 16 he faced, prompting Thompson to summon Klobosits, who issued a free pass vs. the first man he faced to create another LSU scoring opportunity.
Instead of things unraveling, though, Klobosits shut LSU down.
Klobosits got out of the 4th-inning jam by fanning Zach Watson and inducing a ground ball from Robertson. Over the final 5 innings, LSU managed only three hits and only one reached second base.
“Butch told me ‘Just pound the ball in the strike zone. We’re down (4-0), so you can do nothing wrong. Go 5 innings. That’s why I put you in there – to get outs,’ ” Klobosits said.
“I just tried to get ahead of every batter and threw a lot of strikes. Those guys are nothing special. I just showed all our bullpen guys and our two starters how to get these guys out. It was a big part for me to come out and shove for five innings. It was big to just keep them at bay.”
Auburn posed one semi-serious threat against Lange in the 8th inning. Will Holland yanked a two-out single through the right side of the infield and stole second and Todd legged out an infield hit to put runners on the corners.
Lange survived that by getting Estes on a sharp comebacker and then worked around a two-out hit batter in the 9th.
“Alex was in a good groove (Thursday), man,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
“His mechanics were tight, he had great command of his fastball, he had great command of his curveball – he made it easy for the umpire to call pitches (Thursday). He was very aggressive in the strike zone.”
And he finished, tossing a second straight complete game, this time with a victory as the reward after LSU lost 3-2 vs. South Carolina on May 5 with Lange going the distance.
“There's no better feeling than finishing what you started,” Lange said.
Game 2 of the series is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, although there are weather concernes in the Baton Rouge area. Thompson (5-3, 2.08 ERA) will get the ball for Auburn, while LSU will counter with senior southpaw Jared Poche (8-3, 3.33).
ON DECK | Auburn at LSU
Game 1 | LSU 4, Auburn 0
Game 2 | 7 p.m. Friday
Game 3 | Noon Saturday
WHERE: Alex Box Stadium
RECORDS: Auburn 32-19, 14-11 SEC; LSU 33-17, 16-9
RADIO: 98.1-FM (Baton Rouge)
TV/LIVESTREAM: SEC Network (Saturday)/SEC Network+, WatchESPN.com
ON THE WEB: TigerBlitz.com
TWITTER: @RandyRosetta, @BillyEmbody, @LSUBaseball
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS
Friday | Auburn Jr. RH Keegan Thompson (5-3, 2.08 ERA, 69.1 IP, 51 SO/11 BB, .209 OBA) vs. LSU, Sr. LH Jared Poche (8-3, 3.33 ERA, 73 IP, 49 SO/22 BB, .227 OBA)
Saturday | Auburn So. RH Casey Mize (6-1, 1.39 ERA, 64.2 IP, 86 SO/8 BB, .205 OBA vs. LSU, Fr. Eric Walker (5-1, 4.09 ERA, 66 IP, 55 SO/16 BB, .251 OBA)