Big in the Clutch

After LSU answered an early punch from Tulane, the sixth-ranked Tigers used clutch hitting and a combination of solid arms to take the 10-4 victory from the Green Wave.

LSU stranded runners up and down the lineup over the past weekend, helping Auburn take two-of-three games in dealing the Tigers their first losing series at Plainsman Park since 1998.

Against Tulane on Wednesday, both the losing streak and struggles with runners on base were put in the rearview. In a 10-4 win at Alex Box Stadium, the Tigers went 8-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

“We came out tonight and tried to take advantage of every opportunity we had,” said Leon Landry, who drove in three runs to help LSU to 4-for-8 hitting with two outs and runners in scoring position. “I had coach [Paul] Mainieri in the back of my mind with the clutch hitting [talk].

Landry’s two-run single up the middle in the fourth gave LSU an 8-4 lead before handing the ball to Jordan Rittiner, who recorded a pair of scoreless innings to put the Tigers into cruise control.

“Rittiner’s two innings were fantastic,” said Mainieri of his freshman lefthander, who held the Wave hitless and walked just one batter over his two innings of work. “I had four pitchers to get through five innings. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. When Rittiner had the seven-pitch inning, I knew he would go a second inning.”

Former Byrd High (Shreveport, La.) standout Chris Cotton, another freshman southpaw, calmed the Wave by going two strong innings after Tulane’s three-run burst on Joey Bourgeois in the opening frame.

“I thought the key was Chris Cotton,” Mainieri said. “He threw strikes and took control of the game.

“My goal was to get to the sixth inning and still have a shot at winning,” he added. “I felt like we had an advantage from the sixth inning on with the combination of Rittiner, [Paul] Bertuccini, [Austin] Ross and [Matty] Ott. Those guys all pitched really well tonight.”

Following Rittiner, the trio of veteran arms closed the game by holding the Wave scoreless over the final three innings, allowing a combined two hits and one walk.

Mikie Mahtook, filling in for the injured Trey Watkins in the leadoff spot, continued his hot streak with a home run in the first inning, answering the three runs that the Wave piled on and setting the tone for LSU at the plate.

Mahtook finished 3-for-4 with three RBI and a pair of runs. Tyler Hanover, who knocked in an RBI single to tie the game at 3-3 in the first, went 3-for-4 with two RBI.

“Answering those three runs was really critical in the game,” Mainieri said. “Mahtook put a great swing on the ball to get us a quick run and break the ice right away. To come back and tie the game made it feel like a brand new game.”

For Hanover, another successful night moves him one step further from a frustrating start to the season, where driving balls directly at opposing fielders became a habit that the sophomore couldn’t seem to break.

“After you hit the ball, you can’t control what happens,” he said. “Some days they fall. It is a funny game.”

For Mainieri, the struggles with finding a consistency in the clutch is an ongoing battle that he has fought for over 20 years in the dugout, but one that clearly hasn’t cost the 27-win Tigers many contests in 2010.

“I wish I could figure out the solution to it,” he said. “But we have only lost six games the whole year, so it can’t be that bad.”

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