LSU took an early lead in the 14th Wally Pontiff Classic, then held for a 3-2 win Tuesday night as UL-Lafayette mounted numerous rallies.
The Cajuns had the tying run on third base with one out on three separate occasions, but they never brought it home.
“It was just a really good ballgame. We had some really clutch pitching,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
After 3½ innings of scoreless baseball, LSU jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth.
The Tigers (23-11) started the inning with three consecutive singles, the last of which was a bouncer through the left side by Nick Coomes that scored Zach Watson. Coomes started the game at first base, the first time he’s done that this season.
After a sacrifice bunt by Michael Papierski moved two runners into scoring position, Kramer Robertson came up with a clutch piece of hitting, sending a single back up the middle to score two.
“Sometimes you get lucky and find a hole,” said Robertson, who was batting in the leadoff spot. “Second and third, two outs, I knew we needed to come up with a big hit. I was sitting on a slider and got a slider.”
The Cajuns (18-14-1) wasted no time answering with two runs of their own in the top of the fifth — but it felt like a letdown, given the way the inning started.
Each of the first five Cajuns batters in the fifth inning reached base. Catcher Handsome Monica banged a double off the left-field wall to score one, and Brad Antchak bounced an infield single up the middle to score another.
But Robertson made a phenomenal effort on Antchak’s infield single, making a full-extension dive to keep the ball in the infield. He got up and fired a dart to home to nail Monica for the first out of the inning.
“I saw it going up the middle, and I didn’t really think I was going to be able to get to it,” Robertson said. “It was just a hustle play. ... I dove, and came up with it and immediately thought to turn and throw it home. ...
“It kind of changed the game. We didn’t get any runs after that, and neither did they.”
Two batters later, Nick Bush got Brenn Conrad to ground into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play. Bush was the third pitcher of the inning, and Conrad was the only batter in the inning not to record a hit or walk.
That 3-2 score held for the rest of the game as both teams squandered great scoring opportunities.
LSU had a runner at third with one out after Greg Deichmann’s leadoff double in the bottom of the fifth, but he, too, was thrown out at the plate after Zach Watson’s ground ball was fielded cleanly by a drawn-in infield.
The Cajuns, meanwhile, had runners on second and third with one out in the sixth when LSU called on freshman right-hander Zack Hess out of the bullpen.
“I said, ‘Hey, go for the strikeout, big boy,’ ” Mainieri said. “And he did.”
Hess — who had been LSU’s midweek starter until he was permanently shifted to the bullpen last week — struck out two batters to end the threat.
It was the first time in Hess had ever started an inning with two runners in scoring position, little league to college.
“I was always concerned about it because I know he’s been a starting pitcher his whole life,” Mainieri said. “That was baptism by fire right there, runners on second and third with one out.”
He allowed a one-out triple the next inning to Antchak, the No. 9 hitter. But Hess stranded Antchak at third base with a strikeout and a routine ground ball to second base.
Caleb Gilbert and Hunter Newman combined to throw two scoreless innings to close the game. Newman worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to record his fourth save of the season.
The Tigers have won three consecutive Wally Pontiff Classic games against the Cajuns.
“It was a good, hard-fought victory against a really good ballclub,” Mainieri said.
LSU welcomes Ole Miss to Alex Box Stadium for a three-game series beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.