Cole Freeman reached base on a bobbled ball at shortstop. He sprinted from first base to third on Kramer Robertson’s slow swinging bunt that rolled just inside the third-base foul line, bringing Jake Fraley to the plate in the third inning facing a familiar scenario.
Fraley entered the LSU baseball team’s 11-1 win over Sacramento State on Sunday with one hit in his past nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. Demoted from the No. 3 spot in the order, he struck out in the fifth inning of Saturday’s loss with a runner on second base and popped out on the infield in the seventh with a runner on third — both instances coming with less than two outs in a game where his team went 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
On Sunday, Fraley put the first pitch he saw through the infield to score Freeman, the first of five LSU hits with runners in scoring position.
Antoine Duplantis, who replaced Fraley as the No. 3 hitter in the order, took a four-pitch walk before Beau Jordan began the onslaught coach Paul Mainieri requested after Saturday’s scoring chances went unfulfilled.
“It’s a mindset,” Beau Jordan said. “With a runner on third, it doesn’t matter how talented you are; it’s a mindset to get that runner in and to believe that you’re going to get that runner in and be confident in yourself to put the ball in play.”
Jordan took a 2-0 fastball into the right-center field gap, clearing the bases and eliciting a mighty fist pump as he stood on second base. Bryce Jordan dumped a single into center field two pitches later to score his brother, putting LSU up 5-0 on an afternoon where timely hitting teamed with starter John Valek’s precision for a series-clinching win.
“When you have them down, you have to finish them off,” Mainieri said. “When you give the other team hope — hope is a wonderful thing, and they keep fighting. When you continue to tack on runs, it discourages the other team and consequently at the end it doesn’t come down to a play. I’m really proud of the guys.”
With pinpoint control of his tailing two-seam fastball that often painted the outside corner, Valek cruised through 4.1 no-hit innings before Sacramento State’s Vinny Esposito took a single back up the middle with one out in the fifth.
It was erased on a 4-3 double play three pitches later, sending Valek to the dugout at 50 pitches through five innings. He threw 77 in seven four-hit innings, allowing his only run in the seventh.
“Most importantly,” Mainieri said, “after we’d score, he’d shut them down the next inning. … He was just tremendous. Pounded that strike zone, kept them off-balance and really had that changeup going.”
Fraley, who batted second 11 times last season, finished with three hits; he was one of three Tigers with multiple hits. LSU’s 14 hits were a season high, and the team got one in every inning it played.
“The approach stayed the same,” Fraley said. “I got the same pitches I got in the three-hole — a lot of curveballs. I just took advantage of it, continued to put the barrel on the ball like I did the last three games and they fell in today.”
Contrary to losses this week against Lamar and Sacramento State, when LSU’s bats went dormant after eight- and four-run innings, they piled on Sunday.
Greg Deichmann, penciled in as the designated hitter after an error in Saturday’s eighth inning, brought home Bryce Jordan in the fifth inning with a two-strike RBI single. Freeman singled to open the sixth, stole second and third and advanced home when the throw to third base rolled into left field.
Duplantis drove in Robertson three batters later with an RBI single, putting LSU ahead 8-0. They tacked on two more in the eighth following a bevy of wild pitches.
“One through nine, every single one of those guys can do the job,” Fraley said. “Whenever we have these big offensive days, it’s every single one of us putting hits together and driving in runs. It came together today, and we were able to win the series.”
Hitting coach Andy Cannizaro often keeps the players in huddles before they enter the dugout each half-inning. His message has been consistent, though not heeded in two instances this week.
It was Sunday.
“You never have enough runs,” Bryce Jordan said. “Keep tacking on.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter @Chandler_Rome.