LSU got a tuneup for a possible championship-winning weekend.
The Tigers got their starting second baseman back, too.
LSU throttled UNO 9-1 on Tuesday night at Maestri Field, getting a solid three-inning start from Hunter Devall and stealing fives bases over the first four innings.
The team got good news even before the game. Senior Jared Foster, ruled academically ineligible last week, had his eligibility restored Tuesday after winning an appeal through the university and was reinstated to the team.
He will make the trip to the Thursday-Saturday series at South Carolina.
“It’s great to hear. We love Jared,” shortstop Alex Bregman said. “Everybody can see what he brings to our team. He’s going to bring a lot of energy. We can’t wait.”
Making his first start in more than two years, Devall didn’t allow a runner to reach second base in his three innings on the mound, and Grayson Byrd, who got the surprising start at second base, drove in four runs as the Tigers (44-8) beat the Privateers (14-37), slapping them with an eighth straight loss.
Andrew Stevenson, Bregman and Chris Chinea all had RBI singles and freshman catcher Mike Papierski hammered a two-run homer over the left field wall against the wind for a 9-0 lead in the seventh inning.
“I was hoping he wouldn’t catch it, and he didn’t,” said Papierski of a skying shot that pushed against a 15-20 mph wind. “I hit it pretty well.”
Six Tigers relievers pitched six innings, allowing just two hits and one run in a ho-hum win for LSU ahead of the final regular season series of the season.
LSU must win two games in a Thursday-Saturday series in Columbia, South Carolina, to claim the regular-season SEC championship. One win against the Gamecocks and the Tigers lock up the SEC West regular season title.
“We’re going to go to Columbia, South Carolina, to see if we can’t win a championship or two,” Mainieri said after the win.
They didn’t look ahead on Tuesday.
The Tigers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, getting three hits and walking twice against UNO starter Kevin Kelleher. They stole at least one base in each the second, third and fourth innings, getting three steals in the third — two from Stevenson.
Byrd, a freshman and the son of former LSU pitcher Paul Byrd, got just his second start at second this season and his first start of any kind in a month. He replaced Danny Zardon at the position. Zardon filled in for Foster in a three-game weekend series against Missouri, striking out six times in nine at-bats and committing a ninth inning error on Sunday.
Byrd drove in a run on an infield single and a fielder’s choice and two runs on a blooper to left field. He made a key defensive play, too. UNO had the bases loaded in the fifth inning when Byrd stepped on second base for an inning-ending forceout. Zardon entered at second base in the ninth inning and committed an error while also helping turn a double play.
“He did really nice job,” Mainieri said of Byrd. “Really proud of Grayson. Every time I’ve started him he’s played well. It’s a little bit of an audition, even for next year.”
LSU’s early-season issues at second base – Foster was moved to second from the outfield — returned when Foster was ruled ineligible. The news surfaced before the series opener against Missouri on Friday. The news Tuesday is a massive boost for an LSU team that is the consensus No. 1 team in the nation for the fourth straight week.
Foster won his appeal based on what Maineri calls an “obscure” NCAA rule. A student-athlete must pass six hours of classes in the semester to remain eligible for the postseason. The hours, it was first thought, must only go to that player’s specific major.
That’s not necessarily the case, the coach said.
“He passed the classes,” Mainieri said. “He just didn’t pass them with a high enough grade in his specific major — but because he passed the classes, and because those classes would be accepted by other majors at our institution, they still count as having passed credits in the six-hour rule thing.”
Without Foster, LSU won a 21st game in the past 24 on a breezy Tuesday night in the program’s first time playing at the renovated Maestri Field, a scenic park on the southern shores of Lake Pontchartrain that was upgraded last year. LSU was scheduled to play at UNO last season to open the newly renovated facility, but construction was delayed and the game was moved to Zephyr Field in Metairie.
The field is named after current UNO coach Ron Maestri.
The stadium, listed at 2,900 capacity, was mostly full for the Tigers’ final nonconference game of the season — many of them in purple and gold.
They got to see Mainieri send two pitchers to the plate. Senior Kyle Bouman and walk-on Ryan May each had a plate appearance in the top of the ninth. Bouman struck out and May grounded out.
Fans didn’t get to see much of right fielder Mark Laird. He mostly got the night off — just his third of the season — before the key road series. He entered in the ninth.
LSU will leave from Baton Rouge for South Carolina on Wednesday afternoon. The Tigers are gunning for their ninth SEC series win this season — something LSU did on the College World Series teams of 2009 and 2013.