Zach Watson said his big day started in pregame batting practice with an exceedingly simple concept.
He looked at hitting coach Micah Gibbs and asked, “Do you think I should swing with two hands all the way through?”
That meant a two-handed follow-through, instead of the one-handed follow-through he’d been using all season — a follow-through his teammates have consistently given him grief for.
“Everybody says I let go of the bat before I even make contact,” Watson said.
Pitcher Jared Poché chimed in, saying Watson thinks he’s Ken Griffey Jr.
Gibbs told Watson to give it a try, and Watson enjoyed a solid round of batting practice. He decided to carry it over into the game.
A few hours later, Watson was discussing his two home run performance.
Perhaps it wasn’t as simple as keeping his hands on his bat all the way through his swing, but Watson’s big flies certainly came at the right time for LSU.
His first home run was an impressive feat. He muscled a pitch that was up and away out of the park to his pull side, not an easy thing to do no matter what the pitch velocity is.
“Yeah, I didn’t think it was going,” Watson said of his reaction off the bat.
There wasn’t much room for doubt about his second home run, a laser that took just 3.4 seconds to leave the park, according to LSU’s TrackMan ball flight tracking system.
Mainieri takes blame
After Friday’s game, LSU coach Paul Mainieri was asked if it was a wake-up call for his team to be tested by the Baton Rouge regional’s No. 4 seed, and he said it probably was considering how well his team had played entering the tournament.
Mainieri then shouldered some of the blame for what appeared to be a poorly focused LSU squad in the regional opener.
“I think it was my fault more than anybody’s,” Mainieri said. “There was so much talk, ‘Who is he going to pitch? If he pitches Poché is he going to get him out of the game early so we can have him available on Monday in case we need him?’ As though there wasn’t even an opponent we had to go out and play against.
“There was never any intention of disrespecting the opponent, I can assure you of that. But when you lose that edge, when you feel like you … don’t have to play your very best to beat somebody, I think that’s a good wake-up call.”
Jared Poché threw 93 pitches in 4.1 innings Friday, and Caleb Gilbert followed him with 47 pitches. But neither are necessarily ruled out for the remainder of the tournament.
“I think (Gilbert will) be ready to go Monday, if necessary,” Mainieri said. “I think even Jared will be ready for a little bit on Monday if necessary.”
Todd Peterson entered to relieve Gilbert in the eighth inning Friday, and Mainieri was encouraged by the way he threw the ball.
“I thought he threw the ball as well as I’ve seen him throw it in a long time,” Mainieri said the freshman right-hander. “His velocity was great. He was right there in the strike zone.”
Despite burning Poché and Gilbert for the rest of the weekend, Mainieri still liked the way his pitching stacked up for Saturday and Sunday.
The 15 runs scored by LSU on Friday were the most it has scored in an NCAA tournament game since the last game at the old Alex Box Stadium when LSU scored 21 against UC-Irvine to punch a ticket to the College World Series.
There was another connection to that game Friday: Watson became the first LSU player to hit two home runs in an NCAA tournament game since Ryan Schimpf did it during the 21-7 win against UC-Irvine in 2008.
Friday marked LSU’s 12th consecutive win, its longest win streak since early in the 2015 season.