"Yeah but no. I want to win convincingly," Laval said.
The Laval era at LSU began with a 10-9 victory over Birmingham-Southern Friday night in Alex Box Stadium. Junior third baseman Wally Pontiff won the game for the Tigers with a base hit to deep center field that scored Rocky Scelfo from third base.
The Tigers went into the ninth down 9-7, after blowing leads on two occasions. Birmingham-Southern went three up, three down in the bottom of the inning.
BSU put in their closer, Tim Hicks, to try and finish the Tigers off. Freshman outfielder Dustin Hahn pinch-hit for DH Eric Wiethorn and glanced a shot to the right side. A throwing error by Panther first baseman Scott Asher allowed Hahn to reach first base despite being noticeably hobbled by a knee injury. True freshman Jon Zeringue replaced him as a pinch runner. Then freshman pitcher
Jason Vargas pinch-hit, walked and was replaced on the bag by freshman J.C. Holt
Next, freshman second baseman Rocky Scelfo laid down a bunt and managed to beat the throw to first and load the bases.
David Raymer then flied out, bringing up senior right fielder Sean Barker with three true freshmen on base. Panthers head coach Brian Shoop placed third baseman Connor Robertson on the mound. Barker drilled a single to right field off Robertson, bringing in Zeringue and Holt and tying the game at 9 with only one out.
Pontiff was next up, and the Metairie native pounded the ball into the right corner of center field.
"You can't ask for a barn-burner every game, but I never dreamed that it would end that way," Pontiff said.
"You could see it coming. We got ahead and then we lost focus and you can't do that against a systematic team like Birmingham-Southern," Smoke Laval said.
Reliever Brian Wilson picked up the win for the Tigers, but it was Bo Petit who handled most of the game. The junior right-hander lasted six innings and gave up four hits, four earned runs, and one walk, but struck out eight (6.00 ERA). Petit, who had been slowed by injuries the last two seasons, threw 171 pitches. Hicks took the loss for Birmingham-Southern.
LSU started the scoring off in the bottom of the first when shortstop Aaron
Hill's sacrifice fly ball scored David Raymer. Sean Barker then scored on a wild pitch by Birmingham-Southern pitcher Derek Griffith. Senior catcher Darren Welch brought in two more runs on a single down the third base line, and the Tigers ended the first inning up 4-0.
Birmingham-Southern would come back in the third. Left fielder Adam Pease brought in shortstop Micheal Wydner on a double to right center field. Later in the inning Panther third baseman Connor Robertson sliced a single between third base and shortstop to score a run. The next batter, designated hitter Ryan Griffith, pounded a two-run homer over the right field wall, bringing the Panthers even with LSU at 4-4.
Bo Petit responded in the fourth inning, as the Panthers went three up and three down. A double to the corner of right field by Sean Barker put the Tigers back on top 5-4 in the bottom of the fourth.
The Tigers added to their lead in the fifth inning, and entered the eighth inning up 7-4. But again Birmingham-Southern came back. Senior Weylin
Guidry took the mound for the Tigers and immediately struggled, walking his first batter and following that with a home run by Connor Robertson. Guidry gave up another walk and a sac bunt before being replaced by Brian Wilson.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Adam Pease hit a ground ball back to Wilson. The following sloppy play would allow the Panthers to score three runs. Wilson's throw to first was late and wide of the bag, allowing two runs to score. First baseman Blake Gill committed another error on the play by overthrowing Darren Welch at the plate, which allowed another runner to score, giving the Panthers a 9-7 lead.
"Both teams made a lot of mistakes, mentally and physically," said Sean Barker, "But we knew we had the fans behind us."
Barker went four of six, with three RBIs, and lead the Tigers in both hits and RBIs. Wally Pontiff went two for four with one RBI, his game winner in the ninth.
"We're really hoping to find our identity," Pontiff said. "We don't know the game well enough yet," said Laval.
The Tigers took the first of the three game series. Sophomore Lane Mestepey, coming off a freshman season that saw him lead the SEC in both wins (11) and ERA (3.75), will take the mound for LSU in game two on Saturday.
"I knew I was going to win the game." - Wally Pontiff on his thoughts while walking up to bat in the bottom of the ninth.
"It was great to see the young kids get involved in a game like this." - LSU head coach Smoke Laval on having 3 true freshman on base in the bottom of the ninth.
"He was running like a turtle." - Pontiff on Dustin Hahn's hobbled run to first base in the ninth inning.
"He (Hahn) would have beat it out easily but he's got that bad knee." - Laval on Hahn's play.
"I wanted him up there. That's exactly what I wanted in that situation." – Laval on having Wally Pontiff up in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied and runners on base.
Note - Had LSU lost the game, it would have been the first time LSU has lost home openers in consecutive years (the Tigers lost last year's opener to Kansas State) since the 1977 and 78 seasons.
The Numbers Game
81.00 - Weylin Guidry's ERA in 0.1 innings of work.
106 - the number of Bo Pettit's 171 pitches that went for strikes.
13 - LSU left 13 runners on base in the game.
1 - this was the first meeting between LSU and Birmingham-Southern. It is also Birmingham-Southern's first year at the Division I level.
6 - counting Smoke Laval, LSU's previous 6 baseball coaches have all won their first home openers.
LSU - Wally Pontiff is the obvious choice.
Birmingham-Southern - Third baseman Connor Robertson went three of five and blasted a home run over the center field wall in the eighth. He also took the mound in the ninth inning.