Alex Lange needed three pitches to strike out the first batter he faced.
The next batter he faced? The same result.
It set the tone for a dominant performance in which Lange, LSU's ace right-hander, struck out 12 batters in six innings Friday night. His teammates gave him plenty of help at the plate as the Tigers dropped No. 25 Maryland 6-1 in the series opener at Alex Box Stadium.
“It sets the tone for the whole game, coming out there and showing the other team that you’re going to pound the zone, get strike one and pitch in our counts,” Lange said. “When we’re pitching in our counts, we’re going to be a lot more successful.”
Lange (2-0) actually rang up four strikeouts in the first inning alone, thanks to an error on catcher Michael Papierski on a two-strike curveball Lange spiked a few feet in front of home plate.
It was his ninth career game with 10 or more strikeouts, and Lange finished one shy of tying his career high, which he has tallied on two occasions.
He finished his night by striking out the last two batters he faced in the sixth inning. His 88th pitch of the night screamed past Maryland shortstop Kevin Smith, and Lange thumped his chest as he strode off the mound.
"He felt great. He probably could've pitched another inning, but it just wasn't worth doing it," coach Paul Mainieri said. "I thought he set the tone for the night."
LSU entered the season as a consensus top-five team in all five major college baseball prese…
Lange needed to be sharp. His counterpart, Maryland right-hander Brian Shaffer (0-1), turned in a solid game in his own right. Shaffer kept it to a two-run game and was pulled with two outs in the seventh inning after issuing an intentional walk to LSU slugger Greg Deichmann.
“Their pitcher was really tough,” Mainieri said. “He’s going to give a lot of teams fits this year.”
He only let one inning get away from him: LSU (5-1) used some aggressiveness at the plate to score three times in the third inning.
Left fielder Brennan Breaux led off the inning by stroking an 0-1 fastball back up the middle for a single. Two batters later, Antoine Duplantis jumped on the first pitch he saw and sent it over center fielder Zach Jancarski’s head for a triple that broke a scoreless tie. Kramer Robertson then laced a 1-0 pitch into center to score Duplantis. It was LSU’s fifth hit of the game, and all had come on the first or second pitch of the at-bat.
After a Deichmann single and a double steal, Robertson came around to score on a sacrifice fly by freshman Jake Slaughter, giving LSU a 3-0 advantage.
“I’m happy we were able to strike first,” Lange said. “It’s always nice when you have a lead to pitch with.”
Maryland (1-3) looked like it was poised to strike back in the top of the fourth. Terps first baseman Brandon Gum singled on a 3-2 pitch to lead off the inning. Then, with one out, Lange issued his first walk of the season, to Madison Nickens, a former St. Amant and LSU-Eunice standout.
With runners at first and second, shortstop Kevin Smith hammered a Lange fastball into left for an RBI double. That put runners at second and third with one out. Lange responded by needing just six pitches to strike out the next two batters.
Half of Lange’s 12 strikeouts came in three-pitch at bats, which is how he achieved the rare accomplishment of racking up double-digit strikeouts on fewer than 90 pitches.
“When he’s throwing both pitches (the fastball and curveball) for strikes like that, they can’t sit on anything,” Mainieri said. “They can say all they want about sitting on a fastball and letting his breaking ball go, but it’s a lot easier said than done when you’re out there facing 92-93 miles an hour with good command. I like those three-pitch strikeouts, by the way. Keeps his pitch count down.”
He exited the game with a 3-1 lead, and Todd Peterson and Hunter Newman protected that lead until the offense broke through again.
Papierski launched a three-run homer, his first of the season, in the bottom of the eighth to turn a two-run lead into a comfortable five-run cushion. It happened on a 1-2 breaking ball that didn’t break, and Papierski pounced.
“He just hung it a little bit,” Papierski said. “I put a good swing on it.”
Newman had thrown only four pitches to help Peterson out of a jam in the eighth inning. And after Papierski’s blast, Mainieri felt comfortable enough in the lead that he did not want to use his closer to protect it. Junior Austin Bain entered and recorded a scoreless ninth to preserve the win.
LSU will send senior left-hander Jared Poché to the mound to go for the series win at 2 p.m. Saturday.