LAKE CHARLES — McNeese State had an answer for every LSU rally Wednesday night.
The Cowboys broke ties in the first, second, third and seventh innings, then slammed the door shut on the Tigers’ final rally of the night, stranding the tying run at third base in the ninth inning of their 5-4 win.
“Anytime you lose, it’s hard, but we had our opportunities,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We left 14 runners on base tonight.”
One of the Tigers’ best opportunities came in the top of the ninth. Trailing by two, they got three straight one-out hits, the last of which was an RBI single off the bat of Chris Reid.
But with the tying run 90 feet away and one out, pinch hitter Jordan Romero struck out, and Lake Charles native Beau Jordan’s chopper up the middle of the field was gloved by shortstop Will Fox and fired to first for the game-ending out.
“When we needed to make a play defensively, we did,” McNeese coach Justin Hill said.
It was LSU’s third loss in its last four games. Two of those losses have come when LSU either tied the game in the ninth or had the tying run on base.
“Right now we’re a hit or two short, a pitch or two short, a play or two short on a couple games,” Mainieri said. “Otherwise, they’d be nice victories. We’d be talking about a great win instead of a heart-breaking loss.
“The kids are learning. We didn’t play a bad game. We had opportunities, we just didn’t cash in.”
Freshman right-hander Zack Hess, in the middle of a competition for the Sunday spot in LSU’s rotation, turned in the shortest outing of his career, getting lifted in favor of Austin Bain after 2.2 innings.
Hess’ main problem was with free passes. He walked four batters in his brief appearance, and the walks were the beginning of his undoing in the third inning Tuesday.
Hess issued back-to-back walks to Dustin Duhon and Ryan Ramirez to start the third inning, bringing up the middle of the McNeese order.
It looked like he might’ve been able to dance out of the mess, with strikeouts of Matt Gallier and Joe Provenzano, but he left a 1-2 fastball up in the hittable zone to Nate Fisbeck and the McNeese right fielder punished the pitch, drilling an RBI single to center field to give McNeese (9-4) a 3-2 lead.
“It wasn’t a bad pitch. ... The kid did a nice piece of hitting,” Mainieri said. “I took him out because he walked the first two batters of the inning. We can’t do that. We fight back and tie the game, you need your pitcher to go out there and dominate the next inning and throw up a zero.”
The LSU bullpen was then handed the task of subduing a potent McNeese State lineup for the next 6.1 innings.
The combination of Bain, Russell Reynolds and Hunter Kiel got LSU to the seventh inning without allowing a run, allowing the Tigers to make up the deficit and tie the game and bring in their own back-end-of-the-bullpen relievers.
Freshman right-hander Todd Peterson (0-1) started the seventh inning but only lasted two batters, giving up an infield single a stolen base on a failed pitch out and a sacrifice bunt. Coach Paul Mainieri turned to Caleb Gilbert in the critical situation with the go-ahead run at third base.
With Gallier, the Cowboys’ best hitter, at the plate, Hill opted to go for the surprise attack. Gallier, hitting .422 with three homers and 17 RBIs entering Wednesday’s game, laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to score the go-ahead run, giving McNeese a 4-3 lead.
“It’s virtually indefensible if you execute it properly. ... Who would’ve guessed that their four-hole hitter was going to do it?” Mainieri said.
It was the first time Hill had called the safety squeeze all season.
“Gilbert’s got a good swing-and-miss breaking ball. ...(Gallier) got the pitch, got it down and executed.”
The Cowboys added to their cushion when Mitchell Rogers unloaded on a Gilbert offering in the eighth inning, taking it way out to left field for his second home run of the evening. Rogers tripled his season home run total Wednesday.
LSU is now 0-2 in true road games this season. The Tigers will return to action at 7 p.m. Friday against Wichita State at Alex Box Stadium.