LSU’s second baseman took a high fastball over the left-field wall.
He made a run-saving dive behind second base, caught a line drive and raced to first base just in time for a putout.
Sounds like Jared Foster, doesn’t it? It was Danny Zardon.
Zardon replaced Foster, who’s academically ineligible for the rest of the season, in mimicking fashion. He made a few web gems and knocked out a solo homer in LSU’s 8-3 win over Missouri on Friday night at Alex Box Stadium.
The Tigers (41-8, 17-7 Southeastern) drubbed a handful of MU pitchers for 11 hits, and freshman Doug Norman (4-1) got the win with a nearly perfect 2.1 innings of mid-game relief in a series-opening win over a bumbling squad.
In its first game at Alex Box since joining the SEC, Missouri (28-22, 14-11) had two wild pitches, one to score a run, and committed four errors — two trying to catch LSU stealing and a third on a pickoff attempt.
It all came in front of an estimated 8,000-plus in a venue the Midwestern Tigers aren’t used to. For LSU, it all came without its 31-game starter at second base. Foster, a senior, was ruled academically ineligible — career-ending news released to reporters minutes before first pitch.
Zardon, dropped from the infield starting lineup earlier this season, returned to it Friday with authority. He started his first game in the field in nearly two months, rocking that homer in the third inning and playing error-free at second.
“I’ll let Coach talk about Jared,” shortstop Alex Bregman said. “We have the next man up mentality around here. Danny did a great job stepping up tonight and getting the big homer for us.”
Coach Paul Mainieri said afterward that he “may stick” with Zardon at second base.
Zardon, a sophomore from Florida, has never played second base for a prolonged period of time — high school or college. His most time at the spot was in the fall of his freshman season.
And, get this: He didn’t find out he’d be starting at second base until the team stretched, about two and a half hours before the game.
His reaction: “My opportunity to do whatever I can to help my team win.”
Mainieri found out Foster didn’t pass a certain class at 4 p.m. Friday, three hours before first pitch. He pulled Foster from bunting practice and sent him home. Foster would have officially been ruled ineligible Monday, but the coach sat him starting Friday.
Zardon is given a second chance. He started the year at third base before a host of errors had him on the bench. Zardon, since his walk-off double against Texas A&M on April 23, has driven in six runs in seven games played.
The bulk of LSU’s order — Bregman, Conner Hale and Kade Scivicque — all had at least two hits and an RBI as LSU surged into the SEC lead with losses from Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
The Tigers are percentage points ahead of Vanderbilt (36-15, 18-8), and they’re now a game up on Texas A&M (41-8, 16-8) in the SEC West with five SEC games left in this chase for the two regular-season titles.
On Friday night, the speedy Tigers took advantage of Missouri’s inadequacy behind the plate. LSU stole a whopping eight bases, its most since 1995. LSU hitters chased MU starter Reggie McClain in the fourth inning, his second-shortest stay of the season.
“I think the key to the game, really, was we figured out their pitcher,” Mainieri said.
Said Bregman: “We just knew we had to get the ball up in the zone. The whole staff throws sinkers. Had to get the fastballs up and take the ones that were down. That was our mindset. Danny did a good job of getting that going on the fastball up.
The offense and base-running more than made up for pitcher Jared Poché’s 3.2-inning, three-run, seven-hit start — tied for the shortest of his career.
LSU made two run-saving plays with Poché on the mound — Zardon’s stop of a ball behind second and a diving snag from third baseman Conner Hale.
Center fielder Andrew Stevenson, who recently recovered from a bad hamstring, made two diving plays — and the last had most of the purple- and gold-clad fans on their feet bowing to the junior.
Jake Godfrey and Alden Cartwright had solid stints on the mound, and Norman walked a guy for his only baserunner in eight faced.
A negative on the night? Poché’s recent solid stretch came to an end. He threw a whopping 74 pitches in his abbreviated start. Missouri had three doubles against the sophomore in an 11-batter span from the third to the fourth.
LSU has more serious issues.
Foster’s absence thrusts the nation’s consensus No. 1 team in a precarious position. Kramer Robertson, the backup second baseman, is out for at least two more weeks with an elbow injury.
“Up until this semester, he’s done well academically,” Mainieri said. “And then, for some reason, he just didn’t get the job done in this semester. It’s NCAA rules. You have to meet certain standards to be eligible for the postseason.”
To remain eligible for NCAA postseason play, a player must pass six hours in that semester. Mainieri was surprised about the news this week, only finding out days ago that Foster might not complete the requirements to remain eligible.
There are other options at second. Grayson Byrd backed up Zardon during infield drills before Friday’s game, and he started one game at the position earlier this year. Greg Deichmann, a highly touted freshman from Brother Martin, is an option as well, but he’s “down the depth chart,” the coach said.
Hale is a possibility to move from third to second, the position he played to start this year. Foster, a Lake Charles native, was in the midst of his most productive season as a Tiger following a year in which he batted .115. He was batting .275 with eight home runs, tied for the team lead. He had a .506 slugging percentage.