Remember LSU’s fielding woes at second base?
They are long, long gone.
Second baseman Jared Foster turned a stunning double play, had one of the Tigers’ three home runs and freshman pitcher Jake Godfrey rebounded from two ugly outings with a three-hit win as LSU beat Northwestern State 9-6 on Wednesday night at Alex Box Stadium.
The Tigers (29-5) survived a late rally from the Demons – they cut LSU’s lead to 7-5 in the seventh and had the tying run at the plate in the ninth – to roll up a sixth straight win in a tune up for a three-game series against Auburn (20-13) this weekend.
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Jake Fraley, Chris Sciambra and Foster all had solo homers, and Godfrey (6-0), in his midweek starting debut, allowed three hits in five innings and walked zero batters for the first time in nine starts this year.
It was a solid performance after back-to-back weekend starts that lasted a total of six outs.
“It’s like a rehab start even though it’s not really rehabbing anything. Good to get out of the second inning,” a smiling Godfrey said afterward.
The bullpen had issues throwing strikes again. Doug Norman gave up two of the pen’s three runs, and Parker Bugg, in to close in the ninth, hit his first batter and started his outing by throwing eight straight balls. Those two pitchers walked two and hit two.
He retired the final two batters with the tying run at the plate.
Meanwhile, Foster, an outfielder moved into the infield earlier this season, started a crowd-rousing double play in the sixth on a scorching shot that ricocheted off of pitcher Collin Strall’s outstretched glove.
A smiling coach Paul Mainieri began his postgame interview by asking a throng of reporters, “That play make SportsCenter No. 1? Gotta be.”
The ball was hit hard enough that it took off Strall’s glove, sending it flying into the field. Foster snagged the ricocheted shot in impressive fashion, changing direction at just the last minute and sticking out his gloved left hand.
He spun, on his knees, to make the throw to second. Shortstop Alex Bregman then fired to first for the double play.
“Just your normal 1-4-6-3 double play,” Mainieri said.
Said Foster: “I came up with it somehow. I didn’t even know what I did honestly. I got it, and I don’t know if I rolled or did a flip or anything, but I got that and threw it to Bregman. I was just like, ‘That was pretty cool.’”
It continued a host of fielding gems from this squad.
LSU swept a series at Alabama last week after getting two game-saving defensive plays – one in Game 1 and another in the series finale Saturday – and the Tigers committed just their second error in eight games Wednesday.
They started the year with 20 errors in their first 14 games. The woes at second base seem to be over. Foster hasn’t made an error since making two at Southern on March 17 – a span of 11 starts – solidifying a position that saw three players get a start in the first three weeks.
“Putting him into the lineup on an everyday basis and putting him at second base has made us a much, much better team,” Mainieri said. “No question about it. I know at the time I made the decision it was very controversial. People were wondering, ‘what’s he doing?’ I just had a gut feeling.”
Third base remains a sore spot without Conner Hale, out while resting an elbow injury. Danny Zardon committed an error in the ninth inning on a chopper, dropped a ball in a throw to home with the bases loaded and threw high of second in a failed double play attempt. He couldn’t handle another chopper down the line, either.
Hale was plunked with a fastball in the left elbow during Tuesday’s win over UNO.
Hale tweeted earlier Wednesday that he was receiving treatment and “trying to get healthy and ready for this weekend.”
Mainieri said he “thinks” Hale should be ready for the weekend, but the senior could not have played Wednesday because of swelling and soreness.
The bats made up for some of the slipups at third. LSU had 15 hits and chased Northwestern State starter Evan Tidwell after the second inning. Chris Chinea had his fourth straight three-hit game, and the Tigers recovered from an early 3-1 hole – Godfrey allowed a two-run homer – with a four-run second inning.
Fraley got his first start in the field since straining his hamstring last Sunday against Kentucky, and Beau Jordan got the start in right as Mainieri gave Mark Laird the night off – just Laird’s second missed start of the season.
Fraley slammed a pitch to the top row of the Diamond Deck beyond the right field wall, and Kade Scivicque’s two-hit day extended his hitting streak to 17 games – the highest for the team this season.
Sciambra’s solo shot came in the first inning, giving him two long balls in a three-inning span stretching to Tuesday’s win over UNO. He had one home run in his first three seasons at LSU.
On the mound, Godfrey recovered from his last two starts. He went 0.1 and 1.2 innings in those weekend nods, allowing eight runs and 11 hits.
He hit the first batter he faced Wednesday and allowed two runs in the second inning before coasting. He retired seven straight at one point. Mainieri pulled him after the fifth so he’d be ready to pitch this weekend if needed, Mainieri said.
“It was better obviously than the last two outings,” the coach said of Godfrey. “Once he got past the second inning, I didn’t know whether to light up a cigar and celebrate or what. I was just happy for the kid. It was kind of a mental block he had to get past.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.