After the game worked itself into a tie heading into the ninth inning, Tiger closer Louis Coleman took to the mound for his second inning of relief work.
With one out, Illini catcher Aaron Johnson took Coleman’s first pitch into the left field bleachers, scoring Casey McMurray from second and giving the visitors the two-run lead, which they would hold until the game’s end.
“He was a first pitch hitter, and we knew that heading in,” said LSU head coach Paul Mainieri. “Louis hung a slider over the plate and they took advantage of it. You have to give them credit, because they fought hard and played well.”
The Tigers started off slow as Illinois manufactured their opening run on an error. Illini third baseman Dominic Altobelli reached base after driving the pitch off of Ranaudo’s leg and shortstop Brandon Wikoff score from second on a Derek Helenihi throwing error to first base.
The Tigers put base runners on with one out in each of the first three innings. Yet, each opportunity was squandered, the biggest when left fielder Blake Dean got thrown out at second on a double steal attempt after a Micah Gibbs strikeout in the third. Second baseman Ryan Schimpf was also thrown out attempting to steal third in the first inning.
“We just have to be more aggressive out there,” Schimpf said. “We can not afford to get confused out on the paths. The first inning I got a bad jump on my steal, so we just need to play a lot smarter and it will cut down on those mistakes.”
It was all she wrote early for the Illini, however, as they went scoreless over LSU starting pitcher Anthony Ranaudo’s next five innings of work.
Despite the loss, the sophomore right hander was the story of the night for the Bayou Bengals, going seven innings, allowing one run that wasn’t earned on four hits and a walk.
“I felt better coming off of the Central Florida game, from my body to my arm,” Ranaudo said. “Micah [Gibbs] was putting me in the right spot with my pitches and he always had a handle on the batter’s weakness. It was a really good outing for me; we just couldn’t put it together at the plate down towards the end.”
The New Jersey-native struck out a career high twelve batters on the night, giving the six-foot-seven, 227-pounder his best line on three starts on the season.
“My pitch count got up near 100, but I was feeling good from start to finish,” Ranaudo said. “Coach came out to me at the end of the sixth and asked me if I could still go, and I told him I had at least one more inning in me.
“It is a tough loss, but a definite learning experience,” added Ranaudo. “If our pitchers can go compete and throw strikes this weekend we should bounce back. We didn’t expect to get out here and go 56-0, so we knew that this night would come. Still, it doesn’t taste good to us.”
Mainieri’s group did not find any luck at the plate until the start of the fifth inning when Nicholas Pontiff took his first pitch over the fence in left centerfield.
Though the Illini argued the call, third base umpire Nelson Graham ruled that the ball had crossed over the top of the wall before bouncing back into the field of play.
Tiger designated hitter Chris McGhee stepped up to the plate after Pontiff and got his only hit on the night on a double off of Illinois starter Phil Haig’s 1-1 pitch. McGhee was later thrown out attempting to steal third, one of a number of missed opportunities on the base path for the Tigers Friday night.
“We had several base running mistakes on the night,” Mainieri said. “Mistakes on the bases and errors just hurt us. It has been a longtime since we lost a regular season game, so it doesn’t feel good.”
Sean Ochinko was the only Tiger that found consistency at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a double and a pair of singles. Ochinko is now hitting .487 on the year, second to just D.J. LeMahieu (.548) for tops amongst the Tigers.
Coleman closed out the night giving up a pair of hits, two runs, none earned, and a strikeout in two innings of work out of the pen.
Haig went seven strong innings on the night for Illinois, allowing eight hits, one run that was earned, three walks with a pair of strikeouts.
Southpaw Corey Kimes entered the game in the eighth for the visitors, and fanned Dean, Gibbs and LeMahieu in short work. The win moved Kimes to 2-0 on the season.
Nick Chmielewki got the save for Illinois, striking out the side after allowing just one hit in the game’s final inning.
The Tigers will face the Illini in the second game of the weekend series on Saturday at 2 p.m.