So much of this early LSU baseball season has centered on experience — the lack thereof, or whether the team has enough to take the Tigers where they want to go.
Alex Lange had never faced an experience like the one he had Saturday night during LSU’s 10-7 victory against Fordham.
Out of the nightcap of a doubleheader by the sixth inning, and potentially on the hook for his first loss since his junior year of high school, Lange had issued a career-high five earned runs, and his team trailed by four runs entering the seventh inning.
“Lange has carried every team his whole life,” Beau Jordan told his teammates in the dugout. “And he needs our help tonight. So if you don’t want to get up and do it, let someone else hit. I challenged them, we challenged ourselves as a team, to not get up there and waste an at-bat.”
Seven hours earlier, this dearth of offense was unheard of, and the starting pitching was brilliant.
Paul Mainieri cautioned between games that the Tigers’ 15-1 win in the early game— during which most of his regulars exited by the sixth inning — could provide a hint of mental laziness.
Week-old worries returned for LSU early in that second game, as the Tigers left runners in scoring position with less than two outs in the third, fourth and fifth innings while stranding the bases loaded in the sixth.
But then came experience — from two players who have played more than most on this revamped roster — to relieve Lange’s burden.
With LSU trailing 7-4 with two outs in the seventh inning, Kramer Robertson took Rams reliever David Manasek’s first pitch for a double down the left-field line to tie the score, then came home when Jake Fraley followed with a single.
Fraley raced home on Antoine Duplantis’ triple — the first of the freshman’s career that spilled the Tigers dugout onto the field. The clutch hit was a bit of redemption for Duplantis, who struck out on three pitches in the sixth inning with the bases loaded.
The rally capped a seven-run, seven-hit seventh inning — all of which came with two outs — that erased a three-run deficit and saved Lange from the first loss of his collegiate career.
“That guy, his whole career, has picked us up,” Robertson said of Lange. “Sometimes you’re not going to have your best stuff, and a good team will pick up their pitcher when they’re struggling, and the pitchers pick up their hitters when they’re struggling.”
Lange turned in a second straight shaky outing in which his command eluded him after a stellar first inning.
He needed just 19 pitches to retire his first six hitters, overwhelming a Rams lineup that came to Baton Rouge hitting just .178 as a team. Lange’s fastball that topped out at 94 mph, and his curveball — which Fordham’s first two hitters swung over for strike three — came in at 83 mph.
Problems persisted in the fifth, when DeVito collected one of four singles off Lange — two of which drove in runs to give the Rams a 4-3 lead, their first of the series.
All of the runs came with two outs, and three of the four singles came while Lange was behind in the count.
Luke Stampfl led off the sixth with a single and was sacrificed to second before Lundy’s two-out single — on a 3-1 count — sent Stampfl home.
Dawson, making the first start of his collegiate career at third base, one-hopped the throw on a routine grounder, allowing Lundy to score and ending Lange’s night.
“I just got ahead of myself on the mound,” Lange said. “When you work from behind, you get hurt. That’s the bottom line. Got to get better at that.”
A runner was on third base in the third when Jordan Romero bounced into a 4-6-3 double play and runners were on second and third in the fourth with one out when Trey Dawson struck out and Robertson bounced out.
Duplantis, who had reached base all three times and had just one strikeout in his collegiate career, struck out on three pitches with the bases loaded in the sixth to thwart another threat.
In the first game, the Tigers scored six runs in the first two innings, spurred by two homers in the second, to put the score quickly out of reach.
Mainieri began to empty his bench in the sixth inning after his team put up a three more runs to go ahead 11-1. By the time Hunter Devall recorded the final out, just three starters — O’Neal Lochridge, Greg Deichmann and Romero — remained on the field.
“That’s a little bit of a concern, because you almost like one game to go into the next, because you don’t want them to get mentally lazy,” Mainieri said. “But once the game started to become a little bit one-sided, it became an opportunity to get some other guys into the game and keep the regulars from getting hurt.”
Already ahead 1-0 after Beau Jordan’s first-inning RBI double, the Tigers scored five times in the second.
Romero, who had a home run in his only at-bat Friday night, took Fordham starter Joseph Serrapica’s first pitch of the second inning — an 89-mph fastball — into the left-field seats for his sixth hit in 10 at-bats and his team-leading third homer.
Romero finished 2-for-3, adding an RBI double in the eighth to give him a 3-for-4 weekend with a double and two homers heading into Saturday’s night game.
“(Romero’s) hitting the ball hard, having some real quality at-bats,” Mainieri said. “Then Fraley hit the big home run as well. That was great to see.”