Imagine yourself a pitcher before the biggest outing of your young career.
With nearly 9,000 purple and gold clad fans piled into Alex Box Stadium for the new venue’s first taste of postseason play, the pressure on Austin Ross was mounting.
The sophomore right-hander, who entered the game with a team-high seven losses in 16 appearances, shook off his worries like any other pitcher would: in the bullpen.
“I probably threw the best pregame bullpen that I’ve thrown all year,” Ross said.
Unfortunately, as he watched the game’s third pitch leave the park off the bat of Victor Franklin, it seemed all for not.
“You always hear that if guys throw a really good bullpen, then they won’t have their best performance in the game and vice versa,” he said. “I went out at first and really didn’t feel it was all there.”
Leaving a fastball over the plate on the two-run shot, Ross realized early that the day would become a battle.
“I had the breaking ball, but my fastball command wasn’t the same as it had been in bullpen,” he said. “I had to fight that all day, but I was fortunate that my breaking ball was working and I could use that as an out pitch.”
As evidenced by LSU’s scoreboard goose egg through the opening five frames, Ross would need everything in his arsenal to keep the top-seeded Tigers afloat.
“I felt confident that we would eventually get to them,” Mainieri said. “Fortunately, Austin kept us in the game. They scored two runs in the first three pitches, and then he absolutely pitched fantastic the rest of the way.
“That is not an easy thing to do for a pitcher when he gives up runs early.”
By the time he found his seat in the dugout, Ross had worked 6.2 innings and allowed two runs on seven hits. The icing on the cake: the sophomore’s career-high 10-strikeout performance.
“I did not know the number, but I knew a lot of guys were going down swinging,” he said. “My main focus was to minimize them after that first inning. I kept throwing up zeros, and I knew it was only a matter of time before we would score some runs.
“I told myself, don’t let them get anymore and we’ll be all right.”
With the Tigers able to turn the seventh frame upside down for the win – scoring seven runs on six hits – Mainieri reverted back to one of the game’s oldest adages.
“Thank goodness this is a nine-inning game.”