COLUMBIA, Mo. — The huddle came earlier than it has all season, a second inning encircling of LSU’s hitters around Andy Cannizaro after the hitting coach watched Missouri ace Tanner Houck steamroll his players in a 13-pitch first inning where two of Cannizaro’s first three hitters looked at strike three.
“We weren’t aggressive and let him dictate the pace that first inning,” Cannizaro said. “We regrouped and said this is our plan of attack, focus, execute, let’s get it done. We’ve got to be aggressive on the fastball, make him show he can throw that breaking ball for a called strike before we get on it.”
The plan took hold and turned what many anticipated as a premier pitcher’s duel and turned it to a methodical, 9-5 win that bled from afternoon to dusk and ended just when Houck exited in the seventh after 107 pitches.
Two pitches after Houck exited with the bases loaded, Beau Jordan greeted freshman reliever Liam Carter with a grand slam off the base of the left field scoreboard, eliciting fist pumps from Cannizaro and giving LSU its third consecutive SEC series win.
“Fastball belt high and I put a good swing on it,” Jordan said. “It’s always fun to face the top-caliber pitchers but it felt good to get (Houck) out of the game. That guy’s good, man.”
Houck’s mid-90s fastball velocity receives much of the hype, but Saturday his offspeed pitches were prominent. Kramer Robertson, at one point, saw six in seven pitches.
“He looked like a clone of Aaron Nola,” Robertson said. “Really similar arm motion, similar arm angle, similar velocity on all his pitches … As soon as you start sitting offspeed, he’s going to blow 96 (mph) by you.”
The Missouri ace permitted six hits. Five were singles. He walked a season-high five and hit two more, a testament to LSU’s scrupulous approach where it heeded the hitting coach’s message.
“Don’t expand the zone,” Cannizaro said. “And don’t help him because he’s already good enough.”
Moved to the seven-hole in a new-look lineup that vaulted Cole Freeman from ninth to second and Greg Deichmann into the still-scuffling cleanup spot, Jordan finished with five RBIs, his other coming on an opposite-field RBI single in the first that broke a 20-inning home scoreless streak for Houck.
Houck allowed eight earned runs. He’d allowed 15 all season before Saturday’s game. His only extra-base hit was a deep triple to Antoine Duplantis who, after strikeouts in his first two at-bats, hammered Houck’s first-pitch fastball in the fourth to the left field warning track, scoring Mike Papierski and Chris Reid for a 4-2 cushion behind starter Alex Lange.
“That’s a real credit to our guys, the way they attacked him,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He’s a bulldog and he was coming right at them. Andy was trying to get the message across that we have to meet his aggressiveness toe-to-toe … and we started to do that.”
Added Cannizaro: “We just kind of outlasted that guy today.”
Pitching his home state for his first time as a collegian, Lange never found a constant rhythm, laboring through 95 pitches in his first five innings and giving up leadoff solo home runs in the fourth and fifth innings to evaporate that two-run LSU lead.
Lange’s undoing was a 32-pitch third inning where he allowed four straight two-out baserunners and walked in the go-ahead run.
“I didn’t think his stuff was bad at all, actually,” Mainieri said. “He threw good. There were a lot of close pitches called balls, made the difference in the count being 1-2 or 2-1 so he had to use his fastball a lot more than he wanted to and didn’t get to use his curveball as much and they were able to put the bat on it a couple times.”
His first 1-2-3 inning was his last one, a perfect sixth that ended with a strikeout of Jake Ring on a dirt curveball on his 110th pitch.
Parker Bugg entered in the seventh, just after Beau Jordan’s bomb, to complete LSU’s second nine-out save in as many days and send another top-flight SEC arm home with a loss at the hands of the suddenly resurgent LSU offense.
“Phenomenal day for us,” Cannizaro said. “Gigantic win.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome