Jake Fraley provided enough early offense for Chris Sciambra to be the hero in the ninth inning of LSU’s 4-3 victory against Louisiana-Lafayette in Game 1 of the Baton Rouge super regional Saturday night at Alex Box Stadium.
But in between, the Tigers had virtually no offense — and they’ll be looking for more to get the last victory they need in this best-of-three series to reach the College World Series.
Fraley doubled home a first-inning run and hit a two-run homer in the third as LSU built a 3-0 lead, but the Tigers went scoreless for five consecutive innings, and the Ragin’ Cajuns pulled even in the ninth.
Seventeen consecutive Tigers went hitless before Sciambra hit his third homer of the season with one out in the bottom of the ninth.
“We’ve got to get back to swinging the bats the way we can,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We’ve got to get better. We haven’t been nearly as good as we can be.”
After scoring 10 runs against Lehigh in the first game of the Baton Rouge regional last week, the Tigers managed just two in consecutive games against UNC Wilmington, even though they swept to the regional title.
Mainieri said he liked what he saw from Fraley and Mark Laird in batting practice during the week, so he batted Laird leadoff, followed by Frailey, who was batting second for just the seventh time this season.
“Jake’s bat was like lightning all week,” Mainieri said. “I wanted those two guys at the top of the order and I think it worked out pretty well.”
Until Sciambra’s game-winner, Fraley had all three of the Tigers’ RBIs and two of their four hits.
“You prepare your whole life for an at-bat in a situation like that,” Sciambra said.
Fraley has batted up and down the LSU order this season. His most common spot in the order has been leadoff, where he has hit 24 times. His next-most familiar spot was No. 8, where he has batted 12 times. In between he has batted seventh three times, sixth five times and fifth once.
The No. 2 spot isn’t generally one of the top-run producing places in the batting order, but it was for Fraley against the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Fraley, who was just 2-for-13 in the Southeastern Conference tournament last month, heated up during three games in the Baton Rouge regional last weekend, going 7-for-12.
Mainieri said Fraley was using a new bat this week.
“It inspired him,” Mainieri told ESPN during an in-game interview.
In the first inning, after Laird led off with a walk and advanced to second on a passed ball, Fraley lined a 3-1 pitch into the right-field corner to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
With one out in the third, Laird reached on a passed ball as he struck out and Fraley followed by driving an 0-1 pitch over the wall in right-center for his second homer of the season. His other homer came April 8 against Northwestern State,
“They’ve pitched me away a lot this season,” Fraley said, “but my first two at-bats tonight, they came in on me and I was able to get the bat around on it.”
Laird provided Fraley with another run-producing opportunity in the fifth when he led off with a walk and went to third on a wild pickoff throw from UL-Lafayette starting pitcher Wyatt Marks. But Fraley looked at strike three.
“I think that’s one at bat he’d like to have back,” Mainieri said.
Fraley batted with the bases empty for the first time with two outs in the seventh and struck out swinging.
LSU starter Alex Lange kept LSU ahead 3-2 until pinch hitter Brenn Conrad hit a leadoff homer in the top of the ninth to tie the score.
But in the bottom of the ninth, Sciambra provided just enough of a complement to Fraley to get LSU the victory.
“Those two guys stepped up big for me,” Lange said.