Alex Lange raced from the dugout to greet Hunter Newman following the long-haired reliever’s second strikeout, which ended the seventh inning and maintained LSU’s tenuous one-run lead Friday night.
“(Lange) battled all game long,” Newman said. “Wanted him to get that ‘W’ tonight. I didn’t want to let him down.”
Lange rebounded from a 39-pitch first inning to toss 6.1 innings of three-hit baseball, and Newman, inserted in relief of the Tigers starter with one out in the seventh, got six strikeouts in 2.2 innings, holding off Vanderbilt as LSU won the series with a 3-2 victory in Alex Box Stadium.
The series win was LSU’s first against Vanderbilt in Paul Mainieri’s tenure and ended on Newman’s sixth strikeout — a four-pitch job on Vanderbilt pinch hitter Karl Ellison that sent the dugout spilling onto the field.
It doubled as Mainieri’s 1,300th win, making him the seventh active coach to accomplish the feat.
Off a rough start at Auburn when he issued six walks and seven earned runs, Lange went to a full count on five of Vanderbilt’s first six hitters in the first, permitting two walks and adding a wild pitch after Ro Coleman led off with a home run that snuck inside the right-field foul pole.
“Just kind of got away from myself. Got too quick on the mound,” Lange said. “It’s easy to just lay down and quit and say, ‘It’s not my day.’ You can buckle down and keep your team in the ballgame after a rough first inning and take them as deep as you can.”
Mainieri approached his ace in the dugout after the half-inning.
“(Former LSU pitcher Aaron) Nola earlier this week in his first game of the (MLB) season gave up a home run to the second batter of the game, then shut them out after six innings,” Mainieri told him. “You’re going to do that; that’s what you’re going to do. Everyone thinks you’re coming out; everyone thinks you can’t do it. You’re going to shut these guys down.”
No other Commodore would reach on a base hit until the fifth, when Tyler Campbell slapped a two-out single. It was erased one pitch later when Coleman stung another ball to right, this one landing in the safety of Antoine Duplantis’ glove rather than the Diamond Deck.
“You can’t do what he did if you don’t have something special about you,” Mainieri said.
Lange issued just one other hit, a stung solo home run from Bryan Reynolds in the sixth that left the bat at 108.4 mph, before exiting with one out in the seventh to a raucous ovation.
Newman froze Kyle Smith and Campbell with strike-three breaking balls to strand Reynolds — the tying run — at first base. He retired the side in the ninth to secure an eight-out save and give Lange the win, using a sweeping breaking ball he had no qualms of throwing at any point in the count.
“Probably one of my better outings I’ve had in my career here,” Newman said.
It was Duplantis’ second-inning grounder through the right side that sullied an otherwise sterling start from Vanderbilt’s Kyle Wright, who had a mean cutter and a mid-90s fastball but was unable to close his innings with success.
All six hits Wright surrendered came with two outs, and the right-hander who had permitted just six earned runs all season allowed three in a two-out, second-inning uprising that started when Chris Reid slapped a single to right.
Jeren Kendall misplayed it, permitting the freshman to take an extra base. Wright walked Mike Papierski on four pitches, then served up an RBI single to Cole Freeman, who placed it in left to tie the score.
Duplantis’ grounder scored both, giving LSU (21-9, 6-5) all the run support it needed to inch above .500 in Southeastern Conference play for the first time all season. Vanderbilt fell to 24-7 and 6-5.
“We competed against Texas A&M and so I knew we had it in the tank, and we didn’t even hit the ball that well (in College Station),” Duplantis said. “We’re hitting the ball well, and things are coming together. It’s not really surprising me, but it’s looking real good right now.”
Added Lange: “Showing all these young guys that we can do it and it’s not just a bunch of talk all these older guys are saying. This team is capable of going far and doing some damage in this thing. It’s fun that they’re buying into it and figuring it out.”