Offense abounds as LSU sweeps Mercer

Late-inning wins had become the norm for LSU, but the Tigers broke from that pattern in their series finale against Mercer. They scored five runs before the opposition posted its first and added 12 more for insurance in a 17-1 skinning of the Bears on Sunday. The biggest surge from LSU came in the seventh inning when the Tigers scored nine, including four on a grand slam from Clayton Harris – the winning pitcher from Saturday's contest.

"We worked offensively," said LSU coach Smoke Laval. "I tip my hat to the players. You very seldom will hear me say that, but we swung the bats."


Harris' grand slam was the second for the Tigers in as many games, coming on the heels of one from pitcher/first baseman Jason Vargas on Saturday.


Another force in the LSU lineup was Matt Heath, who was moved from left field to center and down to No. 9 in the batting order. In response, he turned in a 3-for-4 performance at the plate with a double, a triple and six RBI. Heading into the game, Heath was hitting .187 and looking for his first RBI. By day's end, his averaged climbed up to .286.


"I had a lot of runners on base today," said Heath. "Sometimes you can hit fourth and…it seems like you're leading off every inning. Today, I just happened to come up and there were runners on, so the nine hole was a good spot."


Heath started in center in place of David Raymer who was getting the day off, according to Laval, not as a punishment but to see that he didn't have to be a game-winner each time out. Laval had benched Heath in the same fashion in Friday's game in favor of Dustin Hahn, who started in left field again on Sunday.


With Aaron Hill out with a shoulder separation, Laval used Hahn in the leadoff spot and the freshman from Nevada turned in a 1-for-3 day at the plate. The real production for LSU, however, came from the bottom end of the lineup, as the last five batters accounted for eleven of the Tigers' 14 hits.


Redshirt freshman first baseman Blake Gill, who entered the game 0-for-13, hit sixth in the order and had his breakthrough outing with a 4-for-4 performance including three runs scored.


As productive as the Tigers were on offense, starting pitcher Jake Tompkins (W, 1-0) was equally impressive on the mound. He had given up just one run on four hits through 6.2 innings when he suffered a slight pull of his left oblique muscle and was pulled for the game.


"I wanted to stay in there to see if I could do it," said Tompkins, "but Smoke said it was no big deal, that it was time to come out and give some other guys some work."


Tompkins said he will receive treatment for the injury and doesn't expect to miss any playing time.  


Vargas took over for Tompkins on the mound, finished the seventh with a strikeout and sat down Mercer in order in the eighth. Lukas Guidroz pitched the ninth inning and limited the Bears to a walk.


The only run for Mercer came in the sixth inning after designated hitter Daniel led off the inning with walk and eventually scored on left fielder Kyle Levengood's single to center field. Tompkins was able to get out of the jam and strand two Bears' base runners. He finished the game with six strikeouts against two walks and limited Mercer to just two hits before the two they used to get the run in the sixth inning.


"I felt my fast ball was a little slow," said Tompkins, "so I told Cano (pitching coach Dan Canevari), ‘It doesn't feel like I'm throwing as hard as normal. Let's go to the other pitches.'


"We went to the change-up a lot today, and it was extremely effective. They swung through it. These guys are free swingers, and that's where the change-up is most effective."


By the time Mercer scored, LSU had already plated five runs.


J.C. Holt reached on a bunt single in the first, stole second and took third base when Mercer catcher Drew Starke's throw went into center field. Sean Barker brought Holt in with a groundout to the shortstop.


Shortstop Rocky Scelfo and catcher Chris Phillips put RBI singles together in the second for two more Tiger runs, and Heath logged his first RBI with a sacrifice fly to center field for a 4-0 LSU lead.


Heath scored in the fifth after leading off the inning with a stand-up triple to left center. Holt's grounder to short allowed Heath to cross the plate and make the score 5-0.


After Mercer trimmed LSU's lead down to four, the Tigers manufactured three more runs in the bottom of the sixth. Gill led off with a single and Scelfo got hit by a pitch, and Phillips was able to push both runners over with a perfect sacrifice bunt.


Heath stepped up with another RBI opportunity and delivered with a single to right that scored both men. He eventually scored on a ground out later in the inning to put LSU ahead 8-1.


Mercer pulled starting pitcher Brian Jones (L, 1-1) after the sixth but didn't get any better results from the three pitchers they used to get out of the seventh inning. Reliever Byron Kiefer set things up for Heath again, serving up a single to Vargas, the Tigers' designated hitter, and walking Gill. After Scelfo struck out swinging, Phillips was hit with a pitch to load the bases.


Heath then gave LSU a ten-run lead with a double to left center that cleared the bases. It ended the day for Kiefer, who watched his replacement, Mike Paolantonio, dig an even deeper hole for the Bears. Hahn greeted him with a smash to left field that Levengood lost from his grasp when he crashed into the fence.


After plunking pinch hitter Jason Columbus, Paolantonio walked Barker to bring in Heath. The last pitch he would serve up was a first-pitch fastball to Harris, who took it out of the park beyond the left field bleachers for a 16-1 LSU lead.


"I was looking for a fast ball on the first pitch or early in the count to get my best swing off," said Harris. "He threw one that I could drive, and that's what happened."


There was no doubt Harris' shot would clear the fence, in contrast to the high wind-aided rainbow homer Vargas had on Saturday to clear the bases. Not only are the two true freshmen pitching and hitting threats for the Tigers, they also share an apartment.


Jokingly, Laval gave consideration to putting all nine players in the lineup in the same room as his two-way standouts.


"On the road, that's what we'll do," he said. "In Houston, we'll room the other guys with them and maybe get five or six (grand slams)."


That's bad news for Hahn, who already shares space with Harris and Vargas and may be looked to for the next four-run homer.


"Don't count him out," said Laval. "He could probably do it."


The Tigers got another run in the seventh against reliever Jake Carris. Vargas followed Harris' homer with a single and advanced to third on Gill's double to left center. Scelfo drove in Vargas on a 6-5 fielder's choice.

LSU sent 13 batters to the plate in the inning and finished the game with eight extra base hits.

LSU plays its next four games on the road, travelling to Shreveport for a Tuesday meeting with Centenary before its weekend series at Houston. The Tigers play at home game on March 1 in their series opener with Long Beach State.

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