HOUSTON — Through one inning, it looked like the baseball Gods favored LSU over TCU in a battle of top-five teams.
The rest of the night though? Not so much. After storming to a 4-1 lead on a series of bloop base hits and funky hops, the No. 4 Tigers (7-2) quickly lost their grasp on the game.
Top-ranked TCU (8-1) regained the lead just four batters into the top of the second inning, then kept adding to it as the game progressed to cruise to a 9-6 win in the highly-anticipated matchup.
LSU ace Alex Lange (2-1) had an uncharacteristically off night on the mound, needing 65 pitches to record five outs before he was pulled in favor of reliever Austin Bain.
“I can’t go away and pretend it didn’t happen,” Lange said. “It happened. It is what it is. Everyone has off days and mine just happened to be on the biggest stage we’ve played so far this year. But you give me that team again, if we play them in Omaha, I’m going to be ready.
“That’s what I want. That’s what I’m begging for. I want that other chance. That’s a good team, but I didn’t do anything near what I can do. I think it would be fun to play them when everything’s working.”
Lange did not have any problem getting ahead in the count Friday, throwing first pitch strikes to each of the 13 batters he faced. It was putting them away with two strikes that was challenging, as he could not locate his breaking ball Friday.
“They kept fouling off a lot of breaking balls,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “They’re battlers.”
But, like his offense soon to follow, Lange was on the good side of baseball fortune in the first inning.
Though he needed 28 pitches to get through the frame, he also had a pair of laser line drives hauled in by his outfielders for loud outs, and blew a fastball past TCU power hitter Luken Baker with runners at the corners to limit the Horned Frogs to one run.
Where TCU crushed the ball toward LSU gloves in the first inning, LSU’s hitters used a softer touch and found the right places.
Cole Freeman led the inning off with an infield single, then came around to score when Greg Deichmann fought a fastball off his hands and blooped it into shallow right field. Josh Smith followed with a bloop single to almost the exact same spot to load the bases for Josh Slaughter.
Slaughter poked a cue shot to first base that looked like it might turn into a double play. Then the ball sprang over the first baseman and into right field to bring two runs home.
“We had some fortuitous balls,” Mainieri said. “But we had some good at bats and had it going.”
Jordan Romero brought one more home by banging a double off the wall, and LSU was left feeling good with a 4-1 lead. It wouldn’t take long to unravel.
Lange issued back-to-back one-out walks to put runners on for TCU leadoff hitter Austen Wade, who punished him by drilling a three-run home run over the wall in right field.
Three batters later, Baker launched his own big fly over the wall in left field for a two-run shot, giving the Horned Frogs a 6-4 lead they wouldn’t give up.
That was Lange’s 65th and final pitch of the game. It was the shortest outing of his career by an inning and a third.
“Everybody is entitled to have one off night,” Mainieri said. “Alex will be fine, he’ll be back strong next week I’m sure.”
His counterpart, Brian Howard (2-1), needed 31 pitches to navigate the tricky first inning, but went into cruise control after that. Howard lasted until the sixth inning, allowing just four more base runners for the remainder of his outing.
“Howard is a good pitcher,” Mainieri said. “… He sinks his fastball and he cuts it, and he threw some good breaking balls as well.”
TCU right-hander Charles King followed Howard with three innings of hitless relief before LSU finally got to him in the ninth, scoring two runs off two hits and an error.
LSU will return to Minute Maid Park Saturday at 3:30 to face undefeated Baylor.