Baseball sweeps Nicholls in a big way

On a rain-shortened weekend, the LSU Tiger baseball team opened the regular hosting Nicholls State for what was supposed to be a three-game set. <br><b> The Tigers scored a combined 31 runs against the overmatched Colonels before thunderstorms swept through the Baton Rouge area Sunday postponing the finale to Monday night.

LSU 19, Nicholls State 2       


Spectators at Alex Box Stadium sat Saturday asking the question, "who are these guys?" Throughout the day newcomers like J.P. Padron, Jordan Mayer and Michael Hollander showed not only their talent, but also a surprising maturity for an inexperienced group that helped the Tigers beat Nicholls State 19-2 to take the series.


"You've got to give our hitters a hand," said LSU starting pitcher Clay Dirks. "They've done it two days in a row. They didn't lose focus. They did well, especially the new guys that came out Mayer, JP and Hollander. Everybody's really contributed the last two days."


Mayer, a red-shirt freshman who started at the DH position, began his LSU career with a triple to center field. Two at-bats later, he followed with a homerun over the left field fence.


"I just hit it where it was pitched," said the Alexandria native. "It was a curve ball on the inside corner, I just hit it and it went. I was very excited. It was my first homerun of the year and to do it here at Alex Box, there is no better feeling in the world."


Mayer went two-for-three in the game, while shortstop Hollander recorded three hits at five at-bats.


"Getting that first (hit) is always the toughest one," Hollander said.


He said that the younger guys on the team are working well with the upperclassmen.


"Everybody's really close, even the younger kids on the team kind of jell with everybody else," Hollander said.


J.P. Padron, a freshman from League City, Texas, came in the game for third basemen Brian Harris. Padron went two-for-four at the plate and was solid in the field. Coach Smoke Laval was pleased with the performances of the freshmen, but remains cautiously optimistic.


"Hollander had a few hits, J.P. Padron had a few hits and Jordan Mayer had a few hits," Laval said. "That's what they're supposed to do. Again, they've practiced and worked as hard as everybody. It's fighting through that pressure barrier that the Harris's and Patterson had to fight through for two years."


Laval said he was not only pleased with the Tigers performance at the plate, but with the play in the field as well.


"We're handling the ball pretty well," Laval said. "Maybe defensively we're better than I think."  


Dirks threw for six innings for the Tigers, giving up one run on two hits. He recorded one walk and five strikeouts. He said it was a little difficult to maintain focus during the 10-minute innings LSU created with its 20 hits. There were three innings where the Tigers batted around the entire lineup.


"A couple of times I had to get up once or twice, but I can never complain about those long innings," Dirks said. "When you get run support like we got today, 19 runs, you can never complain about that."


Laval said Dirks could have been "a little more dominating."


"I just thought he could have dominated the game a little bit more in the fourth and fifth innings, Laval said. "He ended up with 5 or 6 strikeouts but 4 of the first 5 outs were strikeouts than he has one the rest of the time. He can get a little bit better when we need that strike out. He's got to get in his mind ‘ok it's the SEC championship game, there's a guy on second base and I have to dominate this left hand hitter'."


The Tigers came out swinging in the first inning. After Bruce Sprowl was hit by a pitch, Patterson hit into a fielder's choice to get on first. Matt Liuzza stepped up with a single to left center.


Then, with one out and two on base, Clay Harris landed on second with a hard-hitting double that scored Patterson. LSU newcomer Brian Harris followed with a double of his own to score Liuzza and move Clay to third. Nick Stavinoha reached on a fielder's choice that found Clay Harris out on his way home. However, Will Harris singled and then Mayer tripled to drive in three more runs. Hollander singled up the middle to score Mayer just before Bruce Sprowl hit a triple to bring in Hollander and put the Tigers up 7-0.


There was more trouble for Nicholls' starter Justin Breaux in the second. After Matt Liuzza flew out to right field, Clay Harris landed on first with a single. Brian Harris and Stavinoha both walked to load the bases.


Nicholls brought in pitcher Bryan Myers to try to get the Colonial's out of the bases-loaded jam. However four balls later, Will Harris took his place on first to score his brother Clay. Meyer settled down and sent Mayer and Hollander back to the dugout to end the inning.


Nicholls went three up, three down for the third inning in a row. In the bottom of the third, Sprowl walked and Patterson was hit by a pitch to begin the inning. After Liuzza and Clay Harris both fell victim to pop flies, it looked as though Nicholls might shut out the Tigers in the third. But, Padron had other plans with a single to score Sprowl from second. Stavinoha would fly out to right field to end the inning. But, the Tigers extended their lead to 9-0 in the third. 


In the fourth inning, Nicholls got its first base-runner of the game when Dirks walked Tim Daigle after a full count. Daigle moved to second on a wild pitch. Anthony Hatch then followed by floating one just over the head of Clay Harris for Nicholls' first base-hit of the game. Then, Bubba Bell hit into a fielder's choice that scored Daigle. With two outs, Jose Higuera hit a double to left field. But, Sprowl and Hollander teamed to throw down Bell from left field as he was making his way home, to end the inning. However, the Colonials put a run on the board.


Dirks said he wants to improve on maintaining his focus throughout the game.

"I lost focus one inning where I walked a guy and he ended up scoring," he said. "When you walk a guy, lead off walk, anytime a guy gets on you have to focus more and prevent that guy from scoring."


Nicholls' Myers did his job to halt the LSU score-fest, holding the Tigers to no-hits in the fourth.

Nicholls fell back into the trend of three-up, three-down in the top of the fifth as Dirks struck out Thomas Bourne to end the inning.


Then, LSU's bats picked back up in the bottom of the fifth. After Patterson flew out to deep right field to begin the inning, Liuzza, Clay Harris and Padron all recorded base-hits to load the bases. Stavinoha hit it deep to left field. Liuzza and Clay Harris scored on the play. With two outs and two men on base, Mayer hit the homer. Hollander recorded another hit before Sprowl grounded out to end the inning.


Brandon Nall came in for the Tigers in the top of the seventh. The side-arm pitcher worked for two innings off the bench. He gave up one run on one hit. Nall recorded one strikeout and no walks.

Laval said Nall had a tough time sitting through those 10 minute innings. He said both Dirks and Nall can maintain their endurance, but not at this point in the season. He said its tough to sit that long and go back in to pitch.


After getting on with a base hit, Bubba Bell scored with two outs on a wild pitch. That would give Nicholls two runs in the game.


Having 14 runs wasn't good enough for LSU. In the bottom of the seventh, Brandon Bass pinch hit in place of Will Harris. Bass singled. Then, Steven Broschofsky, who came in for Jordan Mayer, doubled. Hollander walked to load the bases for Rhett Buteau. Buteau, who pitch hit for Sprowl, recorded a two-RBI single that scored Bass and Broschofsky.  Patterson walked and Will Davis, who pinch hit for Liuzza, reached on a fielder's choice scoring Hollander, moving Buteau to third and Patterson to second.   


Then Chris Jackson, the place kicker for the football team, singled up the middle to score Buteau and Patterson. However, Patterson's run was unearned so Jackson receives only one RBI on the hit. Padron and Steward both popped out to end the inning.


- Amanda Vierk



LSU 12, Nicholls State 1


Under the leadership of senior Lane Mestepey, the LSU baseball team solidly defeated Nicholls State 12-1 in the season opener on Friday.


The veteran left-hander started the game for the Tigers. Mestepey threw seven innings giving up only two hits and no earned runs. The Colonels' only score came from an unearned run that resulted from a lead-off infield error that put the Colonels' Michael Roberts on first. A passed ball moved Roberts to second and he scored on an RBI groundout by Tim Daigle. 


Mestepey had an outstanding year in his sophomore outing, but had a difficult year in 2004 after returning from shoulder surgery. However, the 2001 national freshman of the year said he felt great after the season opener.


"It feels great to get out there," Mestepey said. "There's no pain. I feel like my old self, like sophomore season. Last year was kind of an up and down year for me. Early on (tonight) I didn't have control of my fastball. But, I knew if I threw strikes my field would do the job for me. I kept throwing the ball and I finally got my strike zone back." Early on in the game I wasn't as sharp. The catcher would call a fast ball and I'd throw it in."


Coach Smoke Laval said he expects Mestepey will continue to improve, but was pleased with his performance.


"He's close to where he should be," Laval said. "They really only had like three good cuts. They had a lot of ground balls and a lot of first batter outs."


The Tigers got on the board in the third inning. After Derrick Hebert and Rhett Buteau were both hit by a pitch to get on base, Bruce Sprowl hit a three- run homerun on an 0-2 count. Brian Harris flew out to end the inning, but the Tigers went into the top of the fourth leading 3-1.


Sprowl, who went three-for-three in the game, said he was excited to play in his first game since 2003.


"Getting to watch all last year was a great experience," Sprowl said. "I learned a lot. It was exciting. I was ready to play. Around two o'clock I started getting a little anxious and wanted to get out there."


More big hitters stepped up to the plate in the fourth for the Tigers. Clay Harris and Will Harris led off the inning with walks followed by a fielder's choice from Dustin Weaver. Will Harris was caught in the fielder's choice for the first out of the inning.


Then, the Tigers extended their lead with a Nick Stavinoha three-run homerun over left field. Just two batters later, Rhett Buteau hit his first career homerun. The Tigers' second homerun of the inning put LSU up 7-1 in the bottom of the fourth.


Buteau, a fifth-year senior, came into the game with only two hits at 17 at bats. He went one-for-three and recorded a walk in the season-opener.


"We're very excited for Rhett," Mestepey said. "He's been here five years like me. He's a great guy to have on the team and we're very excited for him."


Buteau started at left field in place of Ryan Patterson. Laval said he mainly wanted to see Buteau's performance in the field.


"I wanted to see him run some balls down," Laval said. "If he hits for us that's a plus because he can run."


Laval said he was pleased but not necessarily surprised with Buteau's shot out the park.


"I wouldn't put them in if I didn't think they could do the job," he said.


Mestepey continued to shut down the Colonels as they went three up, three down in the fifth and sixth innings.


In the seventh inning, Sprowl continued on his path to perfection with a double down the right field line. Brian Harris then recorded an RBI single that scored Sprowl. Then, senior Blake Gill singled up the middle to move Harris to second.


Gill, who played at the DH position, usually plays in the infield but is recovering from shoulder surgery. Laval said they project Gill will return to the field sometime in March. 


With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Will Harris singled to center field, scoring both Brian Harris and Gill. Weaver then smashed the ball over the left field wall for a two-run homerun that put the Tigers up 12-1.


In the top of the eighth inning, spectators got their first look at LSU freshman right-handed pitcher, Eric English. English, who came in to close the game for Mestepey, held Nicholls to no hits and two walks in two innings of work.


The freshman from Weston, Florida posted a 2.97 ERA in 21.2 innings during fall intrasquad practice.


"The thing about English is he really competes, even in intrasquad games," Laval said. "The guys get on him a little bit like ‘hey it's not the seventh game of the world series'."


Laval said he's seen better pitching from his squad this year.


"Good weather in the fall allowed us to get a lot of pitching in, a lot of intrasquads," he said. "That's why I think our pitching will be a little bit better this year."


Laval said he was impressed with the newcomers but he was also pleased with the play of the veterans as well.


"The poise of the older guys kind of excited me tonight," Laval said. "You get behind and you boot a ball, but it seemed like the older guys didn't show any panic whatsoever. That is a good sign. I credit the veterans."


- Amanda Vierk


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