A five-run third-inning outburst and some clutch late-game performances from its defense and closer powered the LSU baseball team’s 9-5 win against Maryland, clinching the series sweep Sunday at Alex Box Stadium.
LSU (7-1) scored 29 runs on 37 hits in the series, and it became evident quickly Sunday that the Tigers would need another big game offensively to earn a sweep.
The game got off to an inauspicious start for LSU and its freshman starting pitcher, Eric Walker. With a strong wind blowing out to left field, Maryland (1-5) center fielder Zach Jancarski took a 2-2 offering from Walker over the fence in left for a leadoff home run.
Four batters later, it was designated hitter Will Watson’s turn. He jumped on the first pitch he saw to hit a two-out, two-run homer that pushed LSU’s first-inning deficit to three runs. It was the first deficit faced by an LSU starting pitcher this season.
But the Tigers did not take long to find their answer.
“The way our hitters responded today I think was very encouraging,” coach Paul Mainieri said.
Freshmen Rankin Woley and Josh Smith keyed the comeback in the second inning with RBI doubles that cut Maryland's lead to 3-2.
Woley hammered a 3-0 pitch into deep center to score Greg Deichmann from first base, then Smith followed by yanking a pitch from Maryland left-hander Tyler Blohm (1-1) down the right-field line to score Woley.
After Walker danced around trouble in the top of the third — with big thanks to catcher Michael Papierski, who gunned down Jancarski as he tried to steal third base after a leadoff double — LSU regained the lead for good in the last of the inning with the help of some good fortune.
Cole Freeman led off with a pop-up and, interestingly enough, this was where the wind first helped LSU. First baseman Brandon Gum called for it, but the wind carried the ball to the left of the pitching mound, where it fell safely for a single.
Two batters later, Kramer Robertson hit a pop-up near the wall separating the crowd from the field in foul territory on the first-base side. Gum tracked the ball but was unable to secure the catch and was charged with an error.
On the next pitch, Robertson drilled a double down the left-field line, bringing home Freeman to tie the score.
A walk and an error loaded the bases for Smith, who brought home the go-ahead run when he was hit by a pitch from reliever Ryan Selmer. That was followed by a sharp two-run single by Papierski that made it a three-run lead.
Freeman came to the plate again as the 10th batter of the inning, and once again he picked up an infield single — the second of his three hits on the day, this one capping LSU's five-run inning.
“After that second one, I was just like, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ ” said Freeman, who reached base five times.
It looked like LSU was cruising toward a comfortable win after Deichmann mashed his fourth home run of the season in the fourth inning, a two-run shot to right-center that made it 9-3.
That notion seemed especially solid after Caleb Gilbert (1-0) struck out all six batters he faced in the fifth and sixth innings. At one point, Gilbert touched 96 mph on the stadium radar gun.
“I was running back into the dugout, and Jared Poché said, ‘He’s throwing his slider faster than I throw my fastball,’ ” Freeman said.
But the Terrapins weren’t done making things interesting.
They were poised to bring the tying run to the plate in the seventh inning after Madison Nickens’ bases-loaded single to right, but Deichmann made a strong throw to nail Marty Costes at the plate and end the inning with the Tigers' lead at 9-5.
“It was kind of a unique play, because it was a 3-2 (count) with two outs and they were taking off on the pitch,” Deichmann said. “So the fact that I threw it home was a risky play … but when I picked up the ball, I saw him only a step or two around the bag, so I felt I had a pretty good shot at it.”
The Terrapins actually did bring the tying run to the plate in the eighth, after reliever Nick Bush issued three straight two-out walks. Mainieri turned to closer Hunter Newman, who escaped the bases-loaded jam by inducing a ground ball to Robertson at shortstop.
LSU returns to Alex Box Stadium at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to face Nicholls State.