The Alex Box Stadium crowd stood to applaud a left-handed pitcher only a few of them had seen toss a competitive pitch.
Jake Latz was long gone.
McNeese’s Austin Sanders, a shaggy, seasoned lefty who sat in the high 80s and threw mid-70s offspeed pitches to both sides of the plate, stymied LSU’s offense through six innings of one-hit baseball, spoiling Latz’s collegiate debut and giving the Cowboys a 7-0 win, their first in Baton Rouge since 1994.
“It was just a total breakdown tonight,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Just was a terrible night for us, great night for McNeese.”
It was LSU’s first home shutout against a nonconference opponent since 2012 and the first time a Southland Conference team had ever shut out the Tigers (21-11). McNeese scored a run in all but two innings and battered the Tigers bullpen for 13 hits.
Meanwhile, a Tigers offense that had, seemingly, discovered a panacea for its shortcomings in six straight games of 10 or more hits recorded just two Tuesday, thanks to Sanders’ soft-tossing slurve that kept hitters out in front.
“That’s about as poor as you can play offensively,” Kramer Robertson said. “And it’s not something we’re proud of.”
Sanders carried a no-hitter through five innings in which only three Tigers reached base and one got into scoring position. Antoine Duplantis ended the bid on Sanders’ second pitch of the sixth, which the Tigers freshman poked the opposite way for a single to extend his hitting streak to seven games.
LSU walked five times, and Greg Deichmann was grazed by a pitch in the sixth inning just after Duplantis’ single, giving the Tigers a threat they soon thwarted.
Beau Jordan, inserted into the cleanup spot after Jordan Romero and Brody Wofford went 1-for-13 with six strikeouts in that slot last weekend, popped out, and Romero grounded into a fielder’s choice.
“You never expect to come in and do this,” Duplantis said. “We had a great weekend and stuff, but it was just a change of speeds for us, and we just couldn’t make the adjustments today.”
Robertson added: “I thought after the first time through we were still geared up from I guess Vanderbilt’s guys. But you can’t make an excuse. Once you see what he’s throwing, you have to make an adjustment, and we didn’t.”
Making the first appearance of his collegiate career after lingering elbow issues, Latz recorded four outs and lasted 36 pitches, throwing 12 fastballs in a 15-pitch first inning before showcasing more of his offspeed pitches in a second inning he did not finish.
After McNeese first baseman Connor Crane took Latz’s 11th pitch of the first inning — a 90 mph fastball — into the left-field seats, Latz fell behind 2-1 to each of his four hitters in the second, issuing a single, double and a walk before Mainieri came for the hook in favor of Doug Norman.
“I felt good. I was out there and I was pretty excited to go, and my body felt fine,” Latz said. “I’m disappointed that I let my team down, mostly. The starting pitcher’s supposed to go out there and give the guys a boost, a good start. And I felt like once I came out of the game, it set the tone for the rest of the game. And I just feel bad about that.”
Latz, who was saddled with the loss, touched 91 mph twice in his first inning but topped at 89 in his second, which featured two first-pitch curveballs and more of his changeup.
He exited after issuing a sacrifice fly that scored the game’s second run and then permitting a five-pitch walk.
“I have to take responsibility for this,” Mainieri said. “A team has to be able to go out there and play with a little more energy and enthusiasm than we did tonight. I thought I had us ready, I thought the kids were anxious to get playing. It started bad, and it just kept getting worse.”
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