LSU’s big-hitting offense took a backseat to its web gem-crazed defense Friday night.
Catcher Kade Scivicque and shortstop Alex Bregman teamed up for some snazzy defensive plays, and reliever Hunter Newman pitched a hitless 3.1 innings in a 3-2 win over Auburn on Friday night at Alex Box Stadium, claiming a series-opening victory that preceded some bad news.
Star freshman righty Alex Lange was scratched from his scheduled start Saturday night because of “arm tightness,” coach Paul Mainieri announced moments after the Tigers’ win. Freshman Austin Bain, slated for a Sunday start, will start Saturday. A starter for Sunday has not been determined, but Jake Godfrey is available.
Mainieri said Lange’s issue is not serious and he’s not “overly concerned” with the pitcher long term.
Lange tweeted after the game, “Nothing serious. Be back next week!”
Meanwhile, LSU (30-5, 9-4 Southeastern Conference) hit the 30-win mark Friday despite a rough night at the plate from a lineup that entered the week with the nation’s second-best average. The Tigers leaned on a defense that’s rounding into shape at just the right time.
Andrew Stevenson, Bregman and Scivicque combined to throw out Auburn’s potential tying run at the plate in the fourth, and Scivicque and Bregman both had spectacular barehanded plays in the infield.
Scivicque, a former junior-college player emerging as a key piece to this squad, caught a man stealing and extended his 18-game hitting streak with an RBI double in the first.
“This defense is outstanding,” Scivicque said.
Newman was the star on the mound, taking over in the sixth for starter Jared Poché (6-1), who had a 5.2-inning, eight-hit stay. Newman got the save, retiring 10 of his 11 batters he faced.
“Hunter was the man tonight,” Poché said. “He’s been doing that all year, though. I don’t want to say it, but I don’t think he’s given up a run all year.”
Newman hasn’t allowed an earned run in 18.2 innings.
He struck out the side in the seventh on 11 pitches and stranded two runners in the sixth with an inning-ending strikeout. He retired seven straight, striking out four in a row at one point, to allow LSU to hold onto that one-run lead. The Tigers led 3-2 from the second to the ninth.
“My location on my fastball and curveball worked really well tonight,” Newman said. “My curveball felt really good coming out of my hand, so I stuck with it.”
Newman and the defense helped an offense that sputtered to just seven hits against AU starter Cole Lipscomb.
LSU stranded four runners in scoring position through the first six innings and then left the bases loaded in the seventh.
The Tigers wasted a leadoff walk in the third and a leadoff single in the sixth. Jared Foster and Chris Sciambra went 0-for-4, and Bregman went 0-for-3. In that seventh, Scivicque and Chinea, riding a 13-game hitting streak, both flew out with the bases loaded.
The defense saved the day — despite Bregman committing his first error in 31 games.
For a second straight game, the infield flashed its skills during a crowd-rousing double play. Scivicque caught a popped-up bunt in the third inning barehanded and then hummed it to second base for another rare and snazzy double play.
During a wild fourth inning, Bregman bounced a throw to first for his second error of the season, but he followed the rare mishap by helping LSU throw out a runner at home. The Tigers gunned down Melvin Gray, trying to score from first base, at the plate on a double to right-center.
Stevenson relayed to Bregman, standing in shallow center, and Bregman rifled a throw to Scivicque for the sweeping tag just in time.
Bregman made a host of spectacular plays, including bare-handing a chopper up the middle for an inning-ending out in the fifth. He opened the fourth by stealing a hit on a hard grounder that seemed destined for the left side of the infield, and he stole another hit in the ninth.
“Alex Bregman is so good defensively, but the thing that makes him special is he makes those plays in clutch situations when you need him the most,” Mainieri said. “The guy is the best player in the country. He’s just phenomenal, and he’s going to be a tough guy to replace.”
Friday’s game didn’t start until 9 p.m. because of rain showers. A deluge hit Baton Rouge about an hour before the scheduled first-pitch time of 7.
The forecast is rainy all weekend, but the chances have diminished for Saturday. There is a 40-percent chance of rain during the day Saturday and 20-percent that night. There is an 80-percent chance for showers Sunday.
The teams are set to play at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
They’ll play Saturday without Lange, who was named D1Baseball.com’s freshman midseason pitcher of the year Friday. Lange threw a bullpen Wednesday and didn’t “feel right,” Mainieri said. The coach made the decision Thursday to give Lange the weekend off to rest his arm.
On Friday, each team scored two runs in the first inning. Auburn had two doubles against Poché in the first, and LSU’s Mark Laird and Scivicque had doubles in the bottom half. The Tigers got the go-ahead in the second during a two-out rally. Jake Fraley and Laird had back-to-back two-out singles to drive in Chris Sciambra, who had reached on a wild pitch after striking out.
Third baseman Conner Hale started Friday’s game at third. His status was in doubt after he was hit by a pitch in the left elbow during Tuesday’s win over UNO. He wore a protective guard on the left elbow. Hale didn’t play in Wednesday’s game against Northwestern State.
Poché had another hit-filled start. He allowed eight hits in 5.2 innings. The sophomore has now given up six hits in six of his nine starts. He allowed six or more hits in just four of 16 starts as a rookie last season. LSU’s defense bailed him out a host of times. Auburn stranded five runners in scoring position in the first four innings. Poché got an inning-ending strikeout in three of those.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.