At some point, one of them had to break.
As well as LSU junior Landon Marceaux and Arkansas junior Patrick Wicklander pitched Friday night, baseball games can't end in ties. Eventually, someone had to allow a run.
It finally happened in the seventh inning, when Marceaux left a slider high in the strike zone. Christian Franklin smacked it into center field. Two runs scored, breaking a scoreless tie.
“It wasn't even competitive through the first six,” Marceaux said. “They were up, and they were down. In the seventh, I missed a spot here, missed a spot there.”
Though Marceaux soon ended the inning, the runs were enough for No. 1 Arkansas, which stretched its lead against LSU’s bullpen for a 7-0 win. LSU lost the first game of the weekend series, spoiling Alex Box Stadium’s largest announced crowd (6,331) of the season.
Everyone — even, I suspect, the visiting Arkansas Razorbacks — went to LSU’s Alex Box Stadium on Friday night looking for glimpses of The Box of old.
“It wasn’t packed, but the energy and the enthusiasm was noticeably different,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “It felt like the old days. I wish we could have done something offensively to really get them into the game. Their left-handed pitcher had something to say about that, unfortunately for us.”
The Tigers (25-16, 6-13 Southeastern Conference) lost the opening game of an SEC series for the first time since they played Vanderbil four weeks ago. The Commodores were also ranked No. 1 at the time. Arkansas (33-7, 14-5) needs one more win to ensure it won’t lose its first series this year.
For six innings, Marceaux and Wicklander dominated the opposing hitters. They marched each other pitch for pitch. Marceaux relied on his off-speed pitches. Wicklander used his fastball. They surrendered one hit between the two of them, staging a true pitchers' duel.
“[Wicklander] challenged us with the fastball,” junior left fielder Gavin Dugas said, “and that’s something we didn’t handle very well.”
LSU and Arkansas will play two games Saturday because of inclement weather forecast for Sunday.
Earlier this week, LSU's coaches had stressed the importance of throwing strikes against the Razorbacks. They led the country in walks. Marceaux listened. He worked ahead in the count almost his entire start. He fell behind in the seventh.
Marceaux, who hadn’t allowed a hit, reached a 3-1 count before he gave up a leadoff single to senior Matt Goodheart. Two batters later, Cayden Wallace singled in a 3-1 count. Wallace advanced to second on the throw by LSU center fielder Giovanni DiGiacomo, who missed the cutoff man.
Trying to protect the tie, Marceaux pitched into a 1-2 count against Franklin. Marceaux already had eight strikeouts, many of them coming on off-speed pitches. He unfurled another slider. It looped into the strike zone. Franklin deposited the ball into center field.
“I had to feed it to them,” Marceaux said, “and they got me.”
Junior left fielder Gavin Dugas expects to play this weekend against No. 1 Arkansas after experiencing back spasms earlier this week.
At that point, Arkansas fifth-year pitcher Kevin Kopps began warming in the bullpen. The best reliever in the SEC, the right-hander held a 0.97 ERA with 66 strikeouts.
Kopps took over in the bottom of the seventh, even though Wicklander had thrown 67 pitches. There were two outs and a runner on second as LSU threatened to tie the game. Kopps struck out DiGiacomo on three pitches.
Mainieri said Marceaux would have returned for the eighth inning if LSU scored one run there, but after the Tigers stranded their only runner in scoring position the whole night, Mainieri turned to the back of LSU’s bullpen. Arkansas scored five runs in the eighth.
“Kopps has been virtually unhittable all year,” Mainieri said. “You don't want to spend your closer knowing you've got two games tomorrow when you're already behind and you don't know if you're going to be able to come back and tie the game or take the lead.”
Kopps retired the next six batters he faced, preventing a comeback and issuing LSU its third shutout loss of the season. Now the Tigers have to try to win the series during a doubleheader Saturday.
“I don't think the score was any way indicative of the kind of game that it was,” Mainieri said. “It was a great ballgame. We were on the short end of it.”