Tigers complete sweep of St. Mary's

LSU baseball opened the Paul Mainieri era and the 2007 season on Friday in front of a chilled Alex Box Stadium crowd. Baseball season is here, but spring was nowhere to be found.

Mainieri's Tigers swept a three-game series against Saint Mary's of California with plenty action late into Friday and Saturday's contests. LSU (3-0) held commanding leads of 4-0 and 7-1 going into the seventh innings of both games. However, the Gaels fought back in both contests with big hits and costly errors by LSU to lose 4-3 and 7-6. 


On Sunday, the Tigers turned in their finest performance of the new season, defeating the Gaels 6-2.



Sunday, Feb.11

LSU 6, Saint Mary's 2


The LSU baseball team erupted for five runs in the first two innings on Sunday and completed a season-opening series sweep of Saint Mary's by a score of 6-2 at the ‘Box.'


The Tigers are off to a 3-0 start for the fourth time in the past six seasons, and LSU swept an opponent at home for the first time since taking three games from Temple last February.                         


Sunday was perhaps the Tigers finest performance of the weekend. Mainieri said he challenged his squad at the completion of Saturday's contest to be more aggressive, both at the plate and in the field. Mainieri's pep talk obviously worked, with the Tigers cruising to victory on the arm of Ryan Byrd.


"We had a meeting last night after coach told us he didn't like our intensity," Jackson said. "We decided last night that we would come in here today to play better and show more enthusiasm."                                                                                                                                               


The Tigers scored early and often against the Gaels, dropping five runs on Saint Mary's within the first two innings. Mitchell hit as the lead-off hitter for the first two games of the weekend, but Mainieri made the switch Sunday to lead off with Chris Jackson, who came through in the first inning.                                                                                                                                    


The move sparked the LSU bats, scoring three runs in the first inning that started with a Jackson single up the middle. Jackson again batted in the second inning, singling to third base to advance runs. The Tiger offense scored two more runs that inning, giving LSU the 5-1 advantage.                                                                                                                                              


"I had been leading (Jackson) off in our scrimmage games for the first couple weeks of practice, and he really swung the bat well," said Mainieri. "He was great and really sparked the team. I was able to move him to lead off, because Blake Dean has been swinging the ball well and is a solid three-hole hitter."                                                                                                        


Jackson led all batters at the plate on Sunday, hitting 3-of-5 with two scored runs. His third hit of the day came in the fourth inning, when he again singled to center field. Mitchell contributed with two runs of his own and an RBI, followed by Dean with two RBIs.                                


Byrd had an excellent day on the mound, giving up two runs in five innings pitched. The sophomore right-hander from Denham Springs gave up only five hits to the Gaels, with Mainieri considering Byrd as the regular Sunday starter. Cain, Bradford and Kyle Beerbohm also saw action on the mound Sunday, giving up a combined no runs on one hit.                                                 


Where relief pitching turned into a problem on Friday and Saturday, Sunday was the opposite, as the relief staff shut down Saint Mary's for the 6-2 victory.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   


"Usually the first game, the nerves play a role," said Mainieri. "After an emotional late night victory, the guys let down the next day. I told them before the game that my teams always play their best on the third day of the season, and I expected that they would. We played a much better game today."



Saturday, Feb. 10

LSU 7, Saint Mary's 6


Friday night's game was close, but Saturday's was even closer.


Mainieri's Tigers took the field Saturday for their second outing of the season, in what Mainieri called a non-aggressive outing. The first-year coach said his squad was not aggressive enough at the plate and was disappointed with the defensive effort in the final inning of the night.


Saint Mary's had their best chance of the series on Saturday to steal a win from LSU, but came up just short in the ninth inning.


LSU took a 7-1 lead into the eighth before the Gaels mounted a major comeback. Junior right-hander Michael Bonura came in for relief of Louis Coleman, who had allowed just one run in the top of the first inning. Mainieri also took the opportunity to substitute many others players, as victory looked to be within grasp.


"I was throwing strikes early, so that was good," said Coleman. "The two-seam fastball and the slider were in the zone all day, so that helped a lot."


Bonura walked his first batter, Joel Staples, and then allowed Ryan Young to double down the left-field line. Staples scored on the hit, making the contest 7-2. Cipolla then flied out to center field, which advanced Young to third.


Bonura earned the second out with a popup, but then gave up a single to Gilbert Urbina that allowed Young to score from third. At that point, senior-lefty Clay Dirks came in to relieve Bonura for the final four outs of the game – which was a surprise to many in attendance. Mainieri had not yet announced his Sunday starter, but most believed it would be Dirks.


Dirks allowed the first batter, Kenny Fuglerud, to reach on a fielder's choice, but outed Urbina at second to end the two-run inning.  


The Tiger offense went up and down in the bottom of the eighth, setting up a dramatic ninth inning.


Dirks looked to have control of the inning, following the first two batters. Cattoni lined out to second base, and Dirks struck out Wells looking.


Then, the game began to fall apart.


Aliotti singled up the middle, and Staples reached on a Steven Waguespack error in right field and advanced to second. Aliotti scored on the error, forcing a tighter score of 7-4 with one out remaining. Young was then hit by a pitch, and Dirks looked to have earned the final out, when Michael Cipolla grounded to third baseman Ryan Schimpf. However, Schimpf fired wildly past first base, allowing two runs to score and the tying run to take second. Schimpf, however, redeemed himself with the final out of the game, on a groundball from pinch hitter Ian Gordon.


"Nothing is going to come easy for us," said Mainieri. "We are not going to go out and throw 15 runs up on the board and make it easy, because we have five or six home run hitters. You are going to have to scratch and claw for everything you get. When you are that way, you are going to play a lot of close games."



Friday, Feb. 9

LSU 4, Saint Mary's 3


The Tigers opened the season with an impressive outing against Saint Mary's (3-7) on Friday in what turned out to be the series' worst weather. A cold front that had moved through just hours before the first pitch changed the field condition for the evening, leaving Alex Box cold and damp.


The game started with Charlie Furbush on the mound, striking out the side and sending the LSU dugout into a roar. It was then the Tigers turn with Jarred Mitchell taking his first collegiate at bat. The two-sport athlete that plays centerfield and receiver for LSU struck out looking on a 0-2 pitch.


"This wasn't bad," said Furbush, a native of Maine. "I'm pretty much used to this kind of weather. Back home it's probably zero degrees right now."


Michael Hollander then walked, and Chris Jackson, who also punts for the Tiger football team, grounded out to the shortstop. Sean Ochinko singled up the middle, which set up a three-run homerun by Blake Dean in his first collegiate at bat.


"You couldn't script it any better," said Mainieri. "We strike out the side to start the inning, and then we hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning with a freshman." 


"I figured I'd take a chance, and I backed off a little bit," Dean said, "and he threw it inside. It was right there."


LSU's lead of 3-0 continued for five innings until the fifth when Mitchell scored on a Jackson fielder's choice that made the contest 4-0. Mitchell had also reached on a fielder's choice and then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Hollander then singled through the left side, placing Mitchell on third.


The Tigers were enjoying a 4-0 lead throughout the night, until the seventh inning when Saint Mary's started to make things interesting. Eric Cattoni heated things up at the plate when he was hit by a pitch by Paul Bertuccini. The next batter, Randy Wells, then sliced a triple to right field to score Cattoni and chip into LSU's lead, 4-1.


In the eighth, Nolan Cain entered on the mound to replace Darryl Shaffer, who also replaced Bertuccini. Michael Nieto forced a walk and was replaced by Brian Hawkins as a pinch runner. He later stole second and scored off an Alex Jensen single up the middle.

Jared Bradford relieved Cain after earning only one out, with Jensen later advancing to second on a groundout, and scored an unearned run on a fielding error by Chris Jackson when throwing to first. 


Bradford finished the game for the Tigers, securing the 4-3 victory in front of a dwindled Tiger crowd.


"These LSU people are really amazing," Mainieri said, even after a season-opening crowd of 3,638 dwindled to about 250 by game's end. "They came out on a cold night, raining, and it was amazing the support we had here tonight. I'm so happy to see the great support of these LSU people, and that made me feel really good."

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