No matter the weather, Anthony Ranaudo just keeps getting better and better.
Against Central Florida in his second start of the season, the sophomore right hander finished with a career high eleven strikeouts, moving his record to 2-0 in the process.
He went again the following Friday against Illinois, earning no decision on a 12 strikeout performance. While the Tigers got the loss, seeing Illinois eventually take the series 2-1, the feeling that head coach Paul Mainieri had found his go-to-arm was brewing.
Opening Southeastern Conference play on Friday night against Kentucky, the New Jersey native took to the hill looking to make his biggest mark to date. Heading into the fourth inning, Ranaudo had not just the no hitter rolling, but had retired nine of the ten Wildcat batters on strikeouts.
"It was a good performance," he said. "I told coach after the game that I felt the same going into the seventh inning that I did last week, and I struck out the side last week. But Kentucky was a good hitting team, and I could feel some speed coming off my pitch because of it."
The fourth frame would see the visitors record both their first hit and run, though the Wildcats were left kicking themselves with the missed opportunity thrown into the mix.
After Ranaudo hit Keenan Wiley with a pitch, Braden Kapteyn broke the seal from the plate with a single to right, giving Kentucky their first base runner of the night.
After a bunt to advance the runners, Marcus Nidiffer doubled to right center, scoring Wiley. Kapteyn, however, slipped to the dirt rounding third base, forcing him to return to the corner after seeing an open lane to home plate fade away before his eyes. Ranaudo would strike out the next batter, leaving two runners stranded and keeping the score at 2-1.
The Tigers' pair of runs came the inning prior by way of a two-run homerun by freshman Tyler Hanover, his second of the season. After Ryan Schimpf walked on four pitches, Wildcat starting pitcher James Paxton gave up the bomb to rightfield on a 1-2 pitch.
"My first at bat [Paxton] started me off with a fastball, because he was challenging everyone their first time through the lineup with it," Hanover said. "My second at bat he started me with the fastball again, but it started tailing away from me, and that was the first time I had noticed movement from it.
"He kept on over and kept on over, and by the fifth one I started relaxing. I knew he was going to challenge me with the fastball, so I just sat back and waited for it."
Hanover's 2-for-4 night at the plate, driving in the three RBI and scoring two runs, comes after the freshman moved into the starting rotation last weekend against Illinois.
"It feels great," he said. "I love being out there playing, and we have a great group of guys that are working hard everyday. Things are going to be good, because we got it done even with the rain and adversity of losing a few games. We have a lot of room for improvement, but I think we can get there."
LSU struck again in the sixth, scoring Blake Dean from third and extending the lead to 3-1 on Jared Mitchell's fielder's choice. Paxton struck out Leon Landry to end the inning, leaving Mitchell on third after the junior stole both first and second.
Ranaudo's night closed down in the seventh, giving way to Paul Bertuccini after pitching six innings and giving up six hits, two earned runs, three walks and finishing with a career high 13 strikeouts on 110 pitches. The right hander would sandwich a pair of doubles around a wild pitch to start the frame, scoring Andy Burns from third in the process.
"Anthony was just phenomenal, but I probably left him in an inning too long," Mainieri said. "He was right at 100 pitches, and I thought that we could extend him one more inning. He lost a few miles off his fastball, and they were able to get to him and we relinquished the lead."
Bertuccini took to the hill with two runners on, no outs and a 3-2 Tiger lead. Yet, that advantage would soon evaporate as well, loading the bases after the right hander allowed a single from the first Wildcat he faced. Chris Bisson would score on a fielder's choice to tie the game, ending the night for Bertuccini, who finished with one hit in a third of an inning of work.
Closer Louis Coleman would put a patch over the leak, retiring both Wildcat batters he faced in the inning on strikeouts.
Paxton's night would end after six as well, finishing with five hits, three earned runs, two walks and a career high 14 strikeouts on 109 pitches. His strikeout total tied a Kentucky record, seeing James Rodriguez fan 14 batters against East Tennessee State in 2004.
"We battled really hard out there today," Paxton said. "I felt good going six innings, and I threw really well and had a good game. Marcus [Nidiffer] was really good tonight behind home plate, so I was pleased with the outing. It would have felt better to get the win, but we played hard."
The Tigers made quick work of Clint Tilford, Paxton's replacement, working through the top of the order for two runs on four hits. Hanover and Dean recorded RBI hits in the frame, scoring Derek Helenihi and Hanover, respectively, to move the score to 5-3.
Coleman retired the side in the eighth before giving up just a single in the ninth, which moved him to four strikeouts on 35 pitches in 2.2 innings of work out of the pen. The win moved the senior to 3-1 on the season, while Tilford dropped to 1-2.
"There were a few times we didn't come through in the clutch, but we did come through with a couple of big ones," Mainieri said. "We did what we needed to do to win a tough ball game in this league, so I am proud of the guys. It is a wonderful win, but you have to look at it and say that we have 29 more of these to go."
Projected as the Sunday starter, what does Coleman's outing do for his game three status?
"Hopefully we will get a great start out of [Austin] Ross tomorrow and see where Sunday takes us," Mainieri said.