GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In a brilliant battle of dueling aces, Florida’s Alex Faedo sparkled just a little more than LSU’s Alex Lange.
“We just came up a little bit short tonight,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “It was a great game. Two of the best pitchers in the country going after it.”
Lange and Faedo combined to strike out 14 and allow just one walk and one run in 15 innings — and even that one run didn't come easy.
Florida broke a scoreless tie when it manufactured a run in the sixth inning, and LSU never answered against Faedo and a trio of relievers as the Gators took the first game of their weekend series 1-0.
“It sucks to be on this side of the ballgame,” said LSU catcher Michael Papierski, who had one of LSU’s seven hits off Faedo. “Lange pitched his butt off and we’ve got to score more runs for him.”
The Gators broke the tie in the sixth when second baseman Deacon Liput, hitting .192 entering the series, lined a 3-2 pitch at the letters into the right-field corner for a leadoff double.
Liput battled back from an 0-2 count to force the issue. Lange said he was trying to throw a fastball on the inner half of the plate, but the pitch got away.
“I left it a little up,” Lange said. “He got his hands through and pulled it down the line.”
Liput moved to third on a sacrifice fly, then scored when first baseman JJ Schwarz hit a towering sacrifice fly to the warning track in left field.
LSU had its chances to answer, putting the tying run on second base in the seventh and ninth innings, but it couldn’t get a run across. The Tigers had Josh Smith at second base with nobody out in the ninth but closed the game with three consecutive strikeouts against Florida reliever Tyler Dyson.
“That kid was throwing the ball real hard,” Mainieri said. “It’s tough. Those kids, they did the best they could, but they just came up a little bit short against another really good arm.”
Lange (3-2) fired a complete game in the loss, striking out seven and allowing just six hits. But he was not satisfied with his performance.
“Obviously I didn’t pitch well enough to win tonight, and that’s what bothers me the most,” Lange said.
Florida couldn’t touch Lange as he cruised through the first four innings. He needed only 44 pitches to get through them, facing one over the minimum. But it was in the fifth, when he got into trouble for the first time, that his greatness truly showed.
The Gators loaded the bases with nobody out on two hits and an error. Lange buckled down.
“That’s unbelievable that he can pitch himself out of that,” Papierski said.
He needed four pitches to strike out Ryan Larson, then followed that with a brilliant three-pitch strikeout of Nick Horvath — the last pitch a filthy curveball in the dirt.
The Florida lineup turned over, and Lange got leadoff man Dalton Guthrie — one of two Gators starters hitting better than .300 entering Friday’s game — to line out sharply to second base and end the inning.
“I just regrouped, re-focused. ... It’s tough, but you’ve got to pitch out of that stuff, because you can’t give up a three-spot there when Faedo is throwing as well as he is,” Lange said.
The only problem: Lange gave up a run in the next inning, and even that one run was too much.
Mainieri said Faedo threw more off-speed pitches than LSU expected. Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said this wasn’t part of any plan; it was just sticking with what Faedo felt.
“It was just one of those nights where he was hitting his breaking ball, just like Alex Lange was,” O’Sullivan said. “He had success with it and we stayed with it, it was really that simple.”
The Florida ace scattered seven hits over seven shutout innings and did not walk a batter. Every time LSU pressured him with base runners, he found the big pitches to escape trouble.
LSU’s best shot may have come in its last inning against Faedo. Freshman center fielder Zach Watson collected a one-out single on Faedo’s 101st pitch of the evening, and Jake Slaughter followed with a single on the next pitch.
But Faedo struck out designated hitter Brennan Breaux and induced a weak pop fly from Papierski to keep LSU off the scoreboard.
Against Faedo, the Tigers went 1-for-12 with runners on base and 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, including three strikeouts.
“We had some good swings against Faedo,” Mainieri said. “We had opportunities; we just couldn’t get the clutch one when we had runners in scoring position.”