Kramer Robertson has seen enough baseball in his four years at LSU to know a thing or two about momentum, about its refusal to be tamed and its power when the other team is riding its wave.
“It’s a hard thing to capture, and a hard thing to stop when the other team has it,’ Robertson said.
LSU and Southeastern Louisiana spent the better part of the first third of Saturday night’s game trying to climb over each other for that precious momentum. For every time Southeastern seemed to have a strong grip on the thing, LSU wrenched it away.
“They answered the pressure,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri of his team said.
LSU withstood a couple of early surges from Southeastern, then gave the Lions more than they could handle in an 11-6 win that ended early Sunday morning and put the Tigers in the driver’s seat of the Baton Rouge regional in Alex Box Stadium.
It marked the seventh time in the past eight games the LSU lineup tallied 10 or more runs, and more importantly, it marked LSU’s 13th consecutive win, putting the Tigers in premium position.
“This game is always so pivotal,” Mainieri said. “That winners' bracket game is the difference between having to win one more game and having to win three more games. That gives you a great advantage knowing that you only have to win one more game in how you manage the staff.”
At 8 p.m. Sunday, the Tigers will play the winner of Sunday’s 3 p.m. elimination game between Rice and Southeastern (37-21). LSU (45-17) needs to win one of two games to advance to the super regional next weekend.
Center fielder Zach Watson led the offensive charge again, clubbing a pair of home runs for the second time in as many days. The freshman has driven in seven runs in two regional games.
The water felt awesome, Zach Watson said.
Robertson rebounded from a rough day at the park Friday by going 4 for 4 at the plate with two runs and playing error-free defense in the field.
“I knew I was going to come out here against a good Southeastern team and do my part,” Robertson said. “I didn’t do my part (Friday), and it hurt us.”
By the end, it was a comfortable win, with LSU’s top bullpen arms nailing down a big lead in the late innings. But it was not always that way. Southeastern took LSU’s best early shot, stood its ground and readied a haymaker.
With a raucous and LSU-heavy crowd still rolling after a four-run Tigers first inning, Southeastern showed no signs of being overcome by the moment, responding with a barrage against LSU’s ace.
As Alex Lange (9-5) struggled to hit his spots — he was in the strike zone, but not where he wanted to be —Southeastern did not waste its opportunities.
“They say solo homers and singles don’t beat you, but when you give up several singles back-to-back-to-back and you can’t stop the bleeding, that’s when they get to you,” Lange said.
Four of the first five batters to come to the plate against Lange in the second inning reached on a base hit, bringing two runs home and turning the lineup over to the top of the order.
In addition to their skill with the bat, the Lions put pressure on Lange with their legs. That was most evident when Ryan Byers came to the plate with one out and runners on second and third.
Byers, who hit the fourth pitch of the game out of the park for a leadoff homer in the first inning, laid a perfect suicide squeeze bunt down to the right of the mound, but it wasn’t even the standard suicide squeeze.
LSU knew the double squeeze was part of the Southeastern playbook, but was not able to do anything about it Saturday. A second run came around to score as Cole Freeman flipped the ball to first base, a two-run sacrifice that gave the Lions a 5-4 lead.
“We knew they had that play, and you can’t defend it,” Mainieri said.
But Lange would buckle down, and the LSU lineup was not done punching.
The Tigers reeled off six unanswered runs to storm back out in front, four of which came against Southeastern ace Mac Sceroler (9-2), who was charged with eight earned runs in 4.1 innings.
Zach Watson said his big day started in pregame batting practice with an exceedingly simple …
Watson, batting in the No. 5 spot in the order in place of the injured Nick Coomes, hit homers to left field in the fifth and sixth innings to power a five-run outburst in those innings.
“Tonight they just punched more than we did,” Southeastern coach Matt Riser said. “They threw some punches early, we threw some punches early, we countered with it. … If you find ways to throw the last punch, you got a good shot to win it. LSU threw the last punch tonight.”
With the support of his teammates at the plate, Lange settled into a groove for the rest of his outing. He exited after six innings, keeping the Lions off the scoreboard for his final four frames.
The difference between the Lange of the first two innings and the Lange of the final four innings was not mechanical, but strategic. Having thrown 48 pitches in the first two innings, he knew he needed to do everything in his power to get as deep as he could into the game.
“The only mindset I had was pitch to contact and go as deep in the game as I can go,” Lange said.
Lange was visibly upset with his performance after the game, but to Mainieri, it was the type of game that truly defined his greatness.
The Tigers blasted their way into the final of the NCAA D1 Baseball Regional Tournament with…
“Even the games where he hasn’t had his greatest stuff, he finds a way to pitch deep into the game and give his team a chance to win,” Mainieri said. “That’s why Alex will go down in history as one of the greatest pitchers in LSU baseball history.”