UL-Lafayette freshman pitcher Wyatt Marks was in trouble before he even broke a sweat.
He’d just walked LSU speedster Mark Laird on five pitches, prompting a pat on the rear end from Nick Thurman.
Then a passed ball moved Laird to second base, and more comfort came from Blake Trahan and Stefan Trosclair.
Then a monster double exploded off the bat of Jake Fraley into the right field corner, easily scoring Laird and putting the Cajuns in a one-run hole two batters into the bottom of the first inning in Saturday’s super regional opener at Alex Box Stadium.
Another visit — this time the entire infield and coach Tony Robichaux.
One might’ve wondered if the moment was too big for the freshman, if the pressure of pitching in front of 11,179 fans might’ve made him try to do too much.
“Just to not let the game spin out of control,” Marks said, recalling what was said during the mound meeting. “Control what you can control, and just make your pitches.”
Marks had heard this message before. He was in this situation not that long ago. The trick was not duplicating the results.
His first outing in the Sun Belt Conference tournament was a disaster. He failed to get out of the first inning against tournament host Troy, giving up five runs on four hits.
The meltdown came because the freshman was, in both his and Robichaux’s words, “too amped.”
He’d turned in a couple solid outings since, but with the electric crowd and the top-ranked team digging into the batter’s box, it seemed fair to wonder if he once again was too amped Saturday.
But Robichaux must’ve seen what he wanted to see in Marks. With a pat on the back, Robichaux kept him in the game and left the bullpen empty.
Marks repaid his faith with one of his strongest outings of the season, even if the Tigers won 4-3 on Chris Sciambra’s ninth-inning homer.
“Our first concern is to slow the ballgame down in the beginning,” Robichaux said. “It got a little fast. As the game deepened, Marks did a great job of slowing it down for us. He did an outstanding job for a true freshman.”
Outside of a two-run homer by Fraley in the bottom of the third — which came on a pitch up and in when Thurman was set up low and away — Marks held down a potent LSU lineup.
After Robichaux left the mound in the bottom of the first (Marks had thrown only two of his 10 pitches for strikes), the freshman then retired Alex Bregman, Kade Scivicque and Conner Hale in order on ground balls.
Marks allowed just two hits in 4.2 innings after Fraley’s two-run homer, and he finished his outing by retiring the last seven hitters he faced.
“It took me a little while to settle in,” Marks said. “Once I did, I just had to make my pitches.”
He needed to turn in the type of performance he did, as LSU’s freshman Alex Lange turned in a masterpiece with 11 strikeouts in eight-plus innings.
Robichaux said he needed his young pitcher simply to give his team a chance, and Marks did that. He left the game on the hook for the loss after giving up three runs in seven innings, but the Cajuns only trailed by one.
“Marks did a great job for us,” Robichaux said. “The only way you are going to beat a guy like Lange is if you get him late in the game.”
Marks kept the Cajuns within reaching distance, and Brenn Conrad crushed a pinch-hit homer over the right-field wall to tie the score at 3.
The Tigers won, but the Cajuns youngsters reinforced what they’ve been shouting lately.
Their freshmen aren’t so young anymore.