With the wind blowing out to left-center field on a warm night, the first two-thirds of Tuesday’s game between LSU and Tulane might’ve been mistaken for a home run derby.
Instead, their meeting at Alex Box Stadium — a 7-6 Tulane victory that marked the Wave’s third consecutive win in the series — was decided by defense and the would-be hits that found gloves instead.
The teams combined for four home runs in the first six innings — including two homers off the bat of Tulane second baseman Jake Willsey, who doubled his season total. Willsey’s second home run that gave Tulane a lead it would never relinquish.
But after the game, LSU coach Paul Mainieri was more concerned about his team’s lack of production at the plate (six runs on six hits) than Tulane’s explosive outing.
“We just didn’t do enough tonight,” Mainieri said. “We had opportunities, but obviously we’re struggling a little bit at the plate. We’ve got to get it straightened out; get guys’ confidence back and get ready for Thursday.”
That's when the Tigers (18-8) open a three-game series against Texas A&M at Alex Box.
On Tuesday night, LSU had some great opportunities late, but were kept off the board, thanks to some excellent defense on Tulane’s part.
Trailing 6-5, the Tigers had the bases loaded with two outs in the seventh inning when Jake Slaughter ripped a line drive down the third-base line. But Tulane third baseman Kody Hoese made a leaping snag to end the inning.
After a leadoff single, a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch moved Beau Jordan to third base with one out in the eighth inning, LSU looked like it might have scored the tying run on Kramer Robertson’s chopper up the middle.
But Tulane shortstop Sal Gozzo cut the ball off and fired to his twin brother, catcher Paul Gozzo, to beat Jordan to the plate and save the run. The play was reviewed by the umpire crew, who determined that it made the correct call on the field.
“You’re allowed to replay all plays at the plate,” Mainieri said. “I asked them to replay it in case the tag was late. Evidently it wasn’t, I’m sure they got the call right.”
Tulane (10-15) and LSU scored a run apiece in the ninth inning, both the consequence of poor defensive plays by both teams.
LSU had the tying run on third base with two out in the ninth, after Tulane first baseman Hunter Williams — whose RBI double gave Tulane a 7-5 lead earlier in the frame — couldn’t handle Smith’s hot shot down the line, allowing Greg Deichmann to score from first.
But Jake Slaughter hit a lazy fly ball to center field to strand Smith at third and end the game.
The wind had shifted late in the game and the ball wasn’t flying as well. But through the first six innings, Alex Box Stadium was a launching pad.
Willsey’s first home run was a solo shot in the third inning that opened the scoring for both teams. He had been previously hitting in the nine spot in the Tulane order, but coach Travis Jewett moved him up one spot after he hit a pair of home runs against LSU last season.
"I just had a hunch that I wanted to move him up a spot," Jewett said. "He'd been in this environment, he'd played in these games and the moment wasn't going to be too big for him. He came through for us tonight."
Two innings later, LSU used its own big home run to storm ahead. Trailing 2-1 with the bases loaded, catcher Michael Papierski took an uppercut swing and sent a moonshot toward left field, just reaching the seats beyond a leaping Lex Kaplan for LSU’s first grand slam this season.
“I definitely didn’t think it was out,” Papierski said. “But I got it up in the wind … and the wind helped me out.”
But then Kaplan answered with a two-run homer to left-center field in the top of the fifth inning off LSU starter Zack Hess, cutting the lead to one.
An inning later, Willsey clubbed his second long ball of the night, a two-run shot off reliever Russell Reynolds (0-1) that gave the Wave a 6-5 lead.
“When the wind blows out of this place it’s kind of like a pinball machine,” Hess said. “It was a night when you couldn’t really miss (your spot), and if you did, they made you pay for it.”
LSU didn’t take full advantage of the wind like Tulane did. The Tigers hit plenty of balls hard — probably more than they do on an average night — but more often than not the hard hit balls found Tulane gloves.
There was Antoine Duplantis rocket to the warning track in right-center. There were back-to-back line drives to left field by Kramer Robertson and Cole Freeman in the third inning. There was Zach Watson’s line drive to center field two batters before Slaughter in the seventh, and Freeman’s opposite field liner with Robertson on first in the eighth. All were right at Tulane defenders.
“It seemed like every ball we hit was right at someone,” Papierski said.