THIBODAUX — Following a three-run fourth inning in which his team was the benefactor of shoddy Nicholls State defense, Alden Cartwright took the mound with LSU ahead by five runs. He had a one-item agenda.
Starter Austin Bain faced a similar situation in the first inning of Wednesday’s 9-4 win at Ray Didier Field. Pitching with a three-run lead, and he could not fulfill Paul Mainieri’s repeated requests to shut the opponent down.
Cartwright induced Alex Shermer’s high, flaring chopper to new LSU shortstop Kramer Robertson, who charged the ball and fired a strike to his new first baseman, Bryce Jordan, nipping Shermer for the first out.
Juan Givan looked at Cartwright’s two-strike fastball, and then Brandon Harigel waved over a two-strike curveball, giving the Tigers their first 1-2-3 inning of the evening. It also gave the LSU midweek pitching staff an elusive “shutdown inning.”
“All I had to do was come in and throw strikes,” Cartwright said. “I knew our offense was going to score runs. It was a close game when I came in. I just knew I had to give them some breathing room and give them a chance to put the game out of reach and they did.”
In relief of Bain, who lasted just two innings, Cartwright threw three scoreless frames. He issued one walk with three strikeouts.
“He kind of took control of the game,” Mainieri said. “Settled everybody down, pounded that strike zone and we were able to tack on right after that.”
And that LSU offense? It cycled through seven Nicholls State pitchers for 12 hits, collecting at least one hit in eight of nine innings, scoring five of its nine runs while Cartwright was pitching.
No. 9 hitter Cole Freeman had a three-hit night by the fifth inning, coming around to score in the fourth after he led off with a double to the left-field wall and in the fifth after re-starting a rally with a single through the left side.
Four others added two-hit games, including Bryce Jordan, who had a three-RBI night. His first hit, a bases-loaded opposite-field double that scored Robertson and Jake Fraley, didn’t come without incident.
Two pitches before his hit, Colonels starter Jake Smith plunked him in the shoulder to force home a run. Plate umpire Chris Symons ruled Jordan — who set a national hit-by-pitch record at Barbe — didn’t attempt to get out of the way of the pitch and kept him at home plate.
“Thank God he called it,” Jordan laughed afterward. “It just proved the fight I have. I wasn’t going to let that faze me or anything like that. ... (Hitting coach Andy Cannizaro has) been preaching to us to get those runs in with less than two outs — just do the job, see the ball deep and hit it the other way.”
Greg Deichmann’s deep sacrifice fly came two batters later in Smith’s 39-pitch first inning.
Smith, who sat in the lower 90s with his fastball, walked four through a 2.1-inning stint to unleash a carousel of relievers who were unable to stymie the Tigers.
Bain wobbled through a two-inning outing in which his control eluded him and heady defense saved damage.
He issued a walk and single to open his outing before Kyle Reese scorched a ball to first base. New starter Bryce Jordan made a backhanded stab to save a hit and cut down the runner at second while only one run scored. O’Neal Lochridge then snared a hard liner from Shermer to double off Reese and escape additional damage.
“Knew he was kind of a pull guy. Had to hold the runner on,” Bryce Jordan said. “When I came off, he smoked it so hard I just kind of reacted to it. Thank God I was in the grass. ... If I was in the dirt, that thing could have gone anywhere.”
The play was one of three sparkling sequences for the retooled LSU infield, the most exquisite coming to lead off the eighth inning when Reese shot one back up the middle off Hunter Devall.
Freeman ranged behind the bag, backhanded the ball and made a jump throw across his body to get the out.
“We feel in sync even though this is the first time we’ve played these positions in five months,” Freeman said. “We feel good and just flying around, talking to people, having fun.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome.