Tigers race past UL-Monroe, 7-1

It's amazing how well things go when everything clicks. And how quickly. <br> Starter Lane Mestepey and the rest of the Tiger squad needed only two hours and 12 minutes to dispatch visiting Louisiana-Monroe, 7-1, Saturday afternoon at Alex Box Stadium. The game, delayed 40 minutes past its scheduled 2 p.m. start due to rain, still finished before the time it could have been expected to had it begun on time.

In a Greg Maddux-like performance, Mestepey (W, 3-0) threw only 85 pitches through eight complete innings, striking out five while walking none. Inducing many Indian batters to jump on the first pitch, Mestepey scattered seven hits during his performance and gave up a single run.


"He's touched by God with a special gift for baseball," said LSU team captain Wally Pontiff. "He throws pitches that other people might throw but he gets outs. It's incredible. He has a knack for getting people out and keeping the ball down and keeping the momentum of the game going that people on the team like playing for.


"Every time he takes the mound I feel there's a 100-percent chance that we're going to win. He's a world-beater and I wish we had a million Mestepeys on this team."


Jason Vargas moved from first base to the pitcher's mound in the ninth inning and continued the breakneck pace, needing only eleven pitches to retire the side in order.


"The pitch count was down today because I think (ULM) had a scouting report on me that said I throw around the zone," Mestepey said. "So they went up there swinging at the first pitch, and that helped me out a lot today by grounding out to my shortstop and third baseman."


Another key in LSU's win was the fact that the Tigers didn't commit an error, a problem that has plagued them all season and cost them the game at times.


"Isn't it amazing how we catch the ball when Mestepey pitches?" LSU head coach Smoke Laval asked. "That's two games without an error. Obviously, we swung the bats real well and even our outs were loud. Mestepey goes 85 pitches, and it was nice to see Vargas throwing 90."


The Tigers jumped on ULM starter Caleb McConnell early by putting up three runs in the bottom of the first inning. Pontiff reached with a two-out single to left, and scored the first Tiger run on a fielding error by Indian right fielder Jaime Estrada.


With Pontiff on first, designated hitter Clay Harris ripped a shot to right-center that fell at the feet of Estrada, who let the ball get past him and to the wall, allowing Pontiff to score and Harris to take third. Second baseman Blake Gill then drew a walk to put runners at the corners for left fielder Matt Heath, who ripped a double to left field that curled away from Al Hayward and splashed into the wet grass, allowing two more LSU runs to score.


Heath finished the afternoon 3-for-4 with two RBI,


"I'm kind of hitting my mid-season form," said Pontiff, who continued to be hot by going 3-for-4 and scoring two runs. "I'm seeing the ball well now, and I'm getting a lot of breaks. You need a lot of luck in baseball, and I feel like I'm having a lot of fortune."


The Indians answered in the top of the third on back-to-back hits by Cade Eady and Jack Skaggs. Eady, the ULM center fielder, hit a two-out single to right and came home when Skaggs laced a hard shot past Pontiff into the left-field corner for an RBI double and the Indians' only run of the game.


LSU added a pair of runs in the bottom of the third by playing the now-familiar station-to-station baseball that has come to characterize the 2002 squad.


Pontiff took first on a bunt single down the third-base line and advanced to third when Harris ripped a shot to right. Harris was retired when Gill hit into a potential double play that the Indians couldn't turn, allowing Gill to reach and Pontiff to score. Gill took second on Heath's second hit of the game and third on a hard chopper by right fielder Sean Barker. A hard groundout to second by Vargas allowed Gill to score and give LSU a 5-1 lead.


The Tigers increased their lead by one more in the bottom of the fourth after shortstop J.C. Holt laced a double to left and came home when Harris ripped a first-pitch single up the middle for the RBI. Harris, a true freshman out of Slidell, finished 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored, and increased his batting average to a hot .400.


LSU's final run was the product of an inning that featured three strikeouts, a hit, a passed ball and two balks. Indian reliever Michael Durham came into the game to start the LSU half of the seventh inning and quickly struck out Heath for the first out. Barker hit a flare to left for a single and, with Vargas at the plate, was awarded second when a balk was called on Durham.


Catcher Jay Aulds mishandled a Durham pitch, allowing Barker to take third. Third base umpire Nelson Graham called another balk on the Indian side-arm thrower, saying that Durham was not coming to a complete stop in his pitching motion. The call bewildered the ULM battery, allowing Barker to score and prompting a visit from Indian skipper Brad Holland.


"(The umpires) said he wasn't stopping at all," Holland said. "I'm not going to get into the umpire situation, but that's totally a judgment call. … I haven't seen that at other places except this place, and I heard about this place calling a lot of balks.


"But that's not the difference. Our outs weren't hard enough and we didn't have enough quality at-bats."


"We're trying to get better," Laval said, "and I think we have, both offensively and defensively -- at least in back-to-back games. I'd just like to see if we could do it one more time."


LSU will face UL-Monroe for the final game of the series at 1 p.m. Sunday at Alex Box Stadium. The Indians will start freshman right-hander Matt Guillory (0-1, 9.56), who will face Tiger freshman righty Clay Harris (1-0, 4.96).


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