Home after a Saturday win and with the Sunday lineup still on his mind, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri sat down to watch a movie with his wife, Karen.
Sundays are his tinkering days, especially this early in the season with a team full of turnover and a series win already sealed. Jordan Romero, Friday night’s hero, would surely catch to spell Mike Papierski. O’Neal Lochridge, another of Friday’s extra-inning saviors, would slide in at third base.
As the movie played, Mainieri considered Dunham product Bryce Adams.
“We need to find out if this kid can help us in some capacity,” Mainieri said.
All three made their first career starts Sunday. All hit home runs, awakening the LSU offense, which slumped into Sunday’s 12-4 win against Cincinnati hitting .192 with 14 hits, only four of which for extra bases.
The Tigers had 10 before the sixth inning concluded, carving up a depleted Cincinnati bullpen thrust into action after its true freshman starter failed to finish the first inning.
Beau Jordan added his first career homer, a two-run shot to left, before Romero sent the next pitch over the left-center field wall, ending an eight-run onslaught that spanned the fifth and sixth innings.
“We had a lot of pitches this weekend that were good pitches to hit that we just didn’t square up,” Mainieri said. “I’m going to just attribute that to a little bit of nerves, getting into the flow of the season.”
Lochridge took Cincinnati reliever A.J. Olasz’s 83-mph offering around the foul pole in right field, driving in roommate Antoine Duplantis and finally solving the lefty reliever who had befuddled the Tigers with his funky delivery.
Olasz hid the ball well in his windup before delivering a pitch with a sidearm-type action that Lochridge apparently had no issue diagnosing. Before allowing the home run, which gave LSU a 4-2 lead it would not relinquish, Olasz had allowed just one hit and one run, which came home on a sacrifice fly.
“I hit it and got nervous it was going to hook foul, so I started hopping, saying ‘Stay fair, stay fair.’ By the luck of God, it stayed fair,” Lochridge laughed. “It’s a whole young team, new team, not a lot of experience. It’s a constant battle for positions, and Coach is giving us the opportunity. Everyone is trying to make the most of them.”
Adams popped a no-doubt grand slam off Cincinnati freshman lefty Jack Bergren’s first pitch of the fifth, clearing the bases that filled thanks to Jake Fraley’s triple, a plunking of Beau Jordan and a walk to Romero. Cincinnati issued nine walks and hit three LSU batters, including both Jordan brothers.
Now ahead 9-2 in the sixth inning, Beau Jordan and Romero deposited their back-to-back home runs. It capped a remarkable opening weekend for Romero, who drove in two runs Sunday after driving both a game-tying and game-winning hit in Friday’s 6-5, 12-inning thriller.
“I’m finally here, and the way the fall went wasn’t how I expected,” Romero said. “Came back after break and grinded it out, kept working hard and knew. God humbled me this fall, which is a good thing — everyone needs a little humbling now and then. Came back and everything just fit into place like it was supposed to, I guess.”
As the young right-handed bats bashed Cincinnati’s bullpen lefties, LSU starter John Valek settled down after a shaky second to allow just two earned runs in 5.2 innings in his first start.
A lefty who pitches to contact and is not known for his strikeout prowess, Valek fanned seven and worked around two early infield miscues to fire four hitless innings from the second until the sixth, when two solo home runs signaled the end of his afternoon. His fastball touched 87 mph, and he flashed a plus breaking pitch that had many Cincinnati hitters waving in the dirt.
“The first inning was going way too fast,” Valek said. “Came in here (after the first) and talked to (pitching coach Alan Dunn) and really settled down. ... I felt really good with my changeup and curveball; that really helped. Being able to throw that (when) behind in the count sometimes really helps.”
A senior in name only, Valek’s Sunday path was similar to that of his offensive cohorts.
An Akron transfer, he came into this program alongside Lochridge, Adams and Romero, enduring transitions and “firsts” along the way and fighting all fall to enter Mainieri’s late-night thoughts when filling out his lineup card.
“It’s great seeing those guys come in and help us out,” Valek said.
“Early on in the year, for them to get their feet wet and have success early on is going to help us.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter @Chandler_Rome.