The one name from LSU’s starting lineup card that you likely aren’t familiar with is Trey Watkins.
This past week, LSU head coach Paul Mainieri called the sophomore speedster – who transferred in from LSU-Eunice – the best leadoff hitter he has coached in over a decade.
With the spotlight shining bright, Watkins’ first play as a Tiger turned out to be every fielder’s worst nightmare. When he dropped a routine fly ball to left field in the top of the first, Centenary third baseman Keegan Acker scored from second to give the Gents the early 1-0 lead.
“I knew that moment had to come,” laughed Watkins. “I am just glad I got it out of the way pretty quickly. It was just a mental error.”
From then out, the night was a memorable one for Watkins – who finished with one hit, one walk and three runs scored, including the game winner in the bottom of the eighth.
“I had never seen him drop a ball through the entire fall or spring,” Mainieri said. “He will learn from that mistake. He showed great character coming right back. I don’t think we win the game without him. He stole bases and scored runs.
“I think you are going to see him be a sparkplug for us all season.”
While LSU got the win, it wasn’t perfect. In fact, in front of an LSU-record 9,914 fans, most of the Tigers followed the same path as Watkins had in the top of the first.
“Tyler Hanover hasn’t been fooled by an off-speed pitch during the whole offseason, and he got fooled by a half-dozen tonight,” Mainieri said. “Their nerves got to them a little.”
Starting pitcher Anthony Ranaudo tossed 72 pitches over five innings for LSU, where he allowed one hit, one unearned run, two walks and recorded six strikeouts. Daniel Bradshaw (1-0), who stepped in for Ranaudo from the sixth inning through the eighth, allowed three runs – all earned – on four hits to earn his first win of the season.
“There were some jitters, but we came out with the win against a good team,” Ranaudo said. “I haven’t faced any live batters in a week and a half, so it was good to knock off some rust.
“When I went out, Bradshaw came in and competed, and his changeup looked good,” he added. “They are a good team, and they are going to put the ball in play and score some runs.”
After Centenary tied the game at 4-4 in the top of the eighth on a solo home run from Cliff Shepard, the Tigers – always consistent in late innings during their run to Omaha in 2009 – found a way to answer back immediately.
Watkins lined a single to left field to start the frame. As routine as the fly ball that he had misplayed in the first inning, Shepard – in left field for Centenary – allowed the ball to roll through his legs and to the wall.
“I wanted to go all the way around, but coach Sanchez played it smart,” Watkins said. “I knew my role, which was just get on base and let the big bats behind me do the work.”
The winning run came off the next bat - that of shortstop Austin Nola. Nola, who had been plugged into the two-hole by Mainieri this past week, finished the night with a two-RBI performance.
“I am trying to just put the ball in play and good things can happen, and tonight they did,” Nola said. “Like everyone else, I had some jitters. But, I got over it and got my hits.”
Sophomore right-hander Matty Ott – who set a school record with 16 saves last season - earned the save in the ninth after he retired the side in order.
While LSU has taken nine straight openers dating back to 2002, Mainieri was quick to point out that he expected the game to be as close as the final scorecard indicated.
“I told the kids to expect a one-run game,” he said. “Their coach came to me before the game and told me that this was the best team that they had ever had. He felt so confident in his pitching, and I can see why.”