The Alex Box Stadium radar gun lit up with a number fans certainly haven’t seen this season.
Alcorn State didn’t bring a power arm to start Tuesday’s midweek game against No. 1 LSU. Instead, the Braves sent soft-throwing sophomore left-hander Jonathan Morales to the hill.
For three innings, Morales held down the Southeastern Conference’s top offense — but a fourth-inning spark eventually propelled the Tigers to a 6-1 victory.
Considering LSU (38-7) entered the evening ranked No. 1 for the second consecutive week, losing to a squad with the No. 290 RPI in Division I would have been a demoralizing night before the Tigers headed off to Starkville, Mississippi. LSU will battle Mississippi State in a three-game series beginning Thursday.
With Alex Box cleaned up after Monday’s thunderstorms — two temporary foul poles had to be installed, and the left- and right-field bleachers were repaired — LSU was hoping to avoid any more scares against Alcorn State.
Last season, the Braves led the Tigers 5-1 in the top of the third inning, though LSU eventually rallied to take a 9-7 victory.
This season, the contest was much more suited for LSU.
Morales came in to the game with an 0-4 record with an 8.92 ERA, and he had allowed opponents to hit .369 against him in 36.1 innings. The Tigers were hitting .320 as a team heading into Tuesday.
That said, Morales’ knuckleball proved to baffle LSU’s hitters early, holding the Tigers to no hits through the first three frames.
LSU had plenty of time to react at the plate — Morales’ velocity topped out at 71 mph, occasionally slowing down to 56 mph on the gun.
“It’s easy to get very frustrated,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “You don’t often see velocity like that in Division I, and certainly not in the SEC. It was a big adjustment for our guys.”
It wasn’t until the bottom of the fourth that the Tigers finally received a spark.
With no runners on and one out, junior shortstop Alex Bregman stepped to the dish with a new approach: wait on it.
“You’ve just got to find a way,” Bregman said. “That’s the only time all year that we’re going to see that.”
He proceeded to stroke the 68 mph knuckler to the warning track in left-center field, giving the Tigers their first hit of the contest and extending his hitting streak to 10 games. It was also his 50th double of his career, making him the 12th player in LSU history to reach that mark.
Bregman then took second base, giving him 26 steals on the year and tying him for No. 8 all-time in a single season.
Senior third baseman Conner Hale eventually drove Bregman home on an RBI groundout to give LSU a 1-0 lead. Later in the inning, sophomore designated hitter Danny Zardon roped a two-run single down the third base line to push LSU’s advantage to three.
“Baseball is a game of adjustments,” Zardon said. “You’ve got to adjust each pitch and each inning, and we found a way to do it.”
Zardon, freshman second baseman Grayson Byrd and sophomore left fielder Jake Fraley all picked up RBIs in the bottom of the eighth to give LSU a five-run lead.
That was plenty of support for LSU’s parade of pitchers.
After senior left-hander Kyle Bouman allowed only one hit in three innings, the LSU bullpen combined to toss six innings of one-run ball.
The Braves’ lone run came off of a solo homer by Scotty Peavey in the top of the seventh. He had the Braves’ only two hits in the game.
“I think our pitching staff just carried us to victory,” Mainieri said. “All those guys just did a terrific job and pieced it together.”