Tigers bounce back in style

The showdown between the Tigers and Fighting Illini Saturday afternoon was a far cry from the meeting between the pair on Friday night. In front of a crowd just short of 10,000, home runs fell like rain as the LSU bats prevailed in a shootout, 22-10.

The Tigers were down and out after Friday night's 3-1 loss, seeing the group hang their heads for the first time since getting ousted by North Carolina at the World Series, as the visitors celebrated the win on the Bayou Bengals' infield.

 

However, perhaps no player wore a look of frustration comparable to that of Leon Landry.

 

The sophomore went 0-for-5 Friday night with a pair of strikeouts, dropping his average on the season to .289.

 

One of the final players remaining on the diamond after the loss, Landry vowed to put the performance behind him and start from scratch the next morning.

 

Consider the promise kept.

 

Moving from the lead off spot to second in the line up, the Baton Rouge-native homered in his second and third appearances at the plate, including a grand slam off of the first pitch from Illini starter Aaron Martin in the second inning.

 

The sophomore's walk to first base told the story, seeing Landry take a few casual strides out of the box as he lifted his right fist in the air.

 

"It felt good coming off of the bat, I will say that," he said with a laugh. "To be honest, I swung trying to push the ball hard into the gap. Still, I was happy to see it get carried a bit by the wind and get out of the park.

 

"I knew that I could turn things around after my struggles last night, and I told myself to put it behind me and start a new day," added Landry. "I try to stick by that motto, win or lose. Today was a day to enjoy, but I am going to forget about it tomorrow morning and get out there and start fresh."

 

The scoring was made possible after Micah Gibbs reached base on a lead off walk. Sean Ochinko then flied out, followed by a walk from designated hitter Grant Dozar. Chad Jones then flied out on a first pitch cut, with Tyler Hanover singling to center on the following at bat, scoring Gibbs to put LSU on the board, 1-3.

 

After a wild pitch that advanced Ochinko and Dozar, Ryan Schimpf walked on four pitches, loading the bases for Landry to begin his work.

 

The Baton Rouge-native's second homerun came in the following inning, taking the ball over the right field fence on a 3-2 pitch.

 

Mainieri pointed to the Tigers' early success at the plate as the turning point from last night's debacle.

 

"When the pitching is not going, we have to rise to the occasion with the bats. We had squandered some scoring opportunities last night and wanted to get out here and change that," he said.

 

"It was good to see us come out early, fall behind, and then get some big hits to remind the guys that we have some bats. With two outs in the second we got a big hit from [Tyler] Hanover to score a run, and then we had the grand slam from Leon, and we were able to follow that up with a two RBI double from Chad Jones in the third. Big hits with runners in scoring position really got us going."

 

With the Tigers working through five pitchers and giving up ten runs on the night, seeing starter Daniel Bradshaw go two innings of work on five hits, three earned runs and a pair of strikeouts, Mainieri said that a cause for concern is certainly there.

 

"Bradshaw was really up in the zone, so it was almost like batting practice for them," he said. "[Bradshaw] was leaving the pitches waist high, and they were all over it. I think now we are looking at turning him around and pitching him in the middle of the week, just to see if we can get some things worked out."

 

According to Mainieri, Bradshaw's move will bring senior closer Louis Coleman back into the starting rotation.

 

One Illini hitter that had the Tigers' number early and often was Willie Argo. The freshman, making his first start of the season after serving a suspension, took the second pitch of his career just over the fence in left field.

 

After dropping his first homerun off at 331 feet down the line, Argo left little doubt about his next two pieces of hitting.

 

He would send his second home run over the bleachers in left field in the fourth inning and his third close to the same mark in the seventh inning, becoming the first collegiate player to hit three home runs in one game since Jacque Vaughn accomplished the feat for USC in 1994.

 

The story of the night, however, remains the Tigers hot streak at the plate.

 

LSU's three grand slams gave the Tigers the SEC record and moved them into an eight-team tie for the NCAA record for most grand slams in a game.

 

Gibbs would follow Landry's lead in the fifth inning, hitting a drive over the left field fence to score Schimpf, D.J. LeMahieu and Blake Dean.

 

Nick Pontiff would complete the feat in the eighth, his second home run in two days, scoring Hanover, Derek Helenihi and Austin Nola.

 

Hanover's night was another positive to take home, seeing the freshman drive in three runs and 4 RBI on three hits, including a homerun in the third, moving his average to .412. That performance, coupled with Derek Helenihi's struggles, will warrant Hanover the start on Sunday.

 

"I think he earned the start tomorrow, so he will be at third base for us," Mainieri said. "He is one person that I have had an eye on, because he is a field rat, which is the baseball version of basketball's gym rat. He spends all of his free time on getting better, so his love for the game is there.

 

"I made it clear that I would give Derek the first opportunity at third, and then from there it was up to performance. I am not saying Derek won't be back at third, I am just going to see what Hanover can do for us."

 

When reflecting upon the chance to move into a full time starting position, Hanover said that he is ready to answer the call.

 

"If coach wants me out there then I am going to give him my best," he said. "I am still learning a lot with the transition from high school, and guys like Derek have really picked me up and taken me in. I hit well today, so I am ready to come out and make some more strides tomorrow and just fill whatever role that I am needed in."

 

Blake Dean, who is batting .289 after going hitless with a strikeout, remains ice cold with the bat in his hands. Expected by most to be the Tigers' most efficient slugger, Mainieri said that all the junior needs is time.

 

"That is a concern for us that he is not hitting well, but we are at 10-1 without him hitting his stride" he said. "If we can get him to relax and hit well then things should pan out. If he is hitting good then we win, plain and simple."

 

Standing in the dugout after the game, many of the Tigers referenced hitting in the clutch as a key to the win. Of course, that thought didn't come from left field.

 

"I really got onto them last night, and I even kind of thought I had maybe laid it on them too hard," Mainieri said. "But, in order to be a great team you have to come through in the clutch, and I made sure to remind them of that in the locker room after the loss last night."

 

Jordan Nicholson got the win, his first decision on the season, while Martin (1-1) was dealt the loss.

 


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