In the first game since expected setup man Doug Norman was lost for the season, the LSU baseball team saw a positive sign in Tuesday night’s 3-2 win against Nicholls State in Alex Box Stadium.
“I thought our bullpen was just outstanding,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri.
Trailing 2-0 when they first dipped into their bullpen, four Tigers relievers combined to stymie Nicholls State, holding the Colonels to one hit over the final 4.1 innings. That allowed the offense time to find its groove.
And that it did. LSU (8-1) didn’t have the explosive type of outburst it's become accustomed to this season, but it was enough for a win. The Tigers managed 11 hits, the seventh time in nine games they've reached that mark, but 10 of them were singles.
Tuesday night, the timing was most important. Eight of LSU's 11 hits came during the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, when the Tigers strung together hits and turned them into runs.
Greg Deichmann, the Southeastern Conference leader in slugging, drove in the go-ahead run on an opposite field single in the seventh.
“Really it was us waking up. ... We were running out of innings,” said Cole Freeman, who turned in his sixth multiple-hit performance in nine games. “If we want to win, we’ve got to win now.”
It also gave the bullpen a chance to nail down a lead against Nicholls State (4-4).
The Tigers bullpen combined to allow just two baserunners in 4.1 innings Tuesday, and one of them reached on a Kramer Robertson throwing error.
Hunter Kiel started the great bullpen outing, relieving starter Zack Hess with two outs in the fifth. He flashed some of the overpowering stuff that had Mainieri raving about him earlier this year. Kiel struck out the side in the sixth while touching 95 mph on the stadium radar gun.
“I felt really calm,” Kiel said. “I felt relaxed and comfortable on the mound.”
After him, Todd Peterson (1-0), Caleb Gilbert and Hunter Newman combined to slam the door on the Colonels. Newman worked around a one-out single to fire a scoreless ninth inning and record his second save.
“I though that was Hunter’s sharpest outing that he’s had,” Mainieri said.
Hess, a freshman righty, threw 4.2 mostly strong innings, keeping the Tigers in the game as they struggled to solve Colonels starter Mike Hanchar, but Hess appeared to run out of gas late.
After allowing just two base runners in the first four innings while logging three perfect frames, Hess beaned center fielder Justin Holt to lead off the Nicholls fifth inning, then allowed a single to put runners at the corners.
The Colonels took a 1-0 lead on a squeeze bunt by Troy Cahill, then added another run on a two-out single by leadoff hitter Chet Niehaus that chased Hess.
“They got to him a little bit there when he started to lose a little bit off his fastball,” Mainieri said. “He left a couple pitches up and they took advantage of it.”
LSU chipped away at that deficit in the next three innings. It cut the lead to one on Robertson’s sacrifice fly in the fifth, then tied it in the sixth on the strength of three consecutive hits.
The last of those hits came from Antoine Duplantis, who was not in the starting lineup for the first time this season but pinch-hit for freshman Zach Watson with runners on the corners and two outs.
“It was a little different (coming off the bench),” said Duplantis, who came off the bench for the first time in his LSU career Tuesday. “The whole time I was thinking I’m going to probably get my chance, especially when the game stayed close.”
He lined a 3-2 pitch into left-center for a game-tying single.
“Honestly, the thing that got us going was Antoine. ... That was the biggest at bat of the night, by far,” Freeman said.
The Tigers began the seventh inning with three consecutive hits, the last of which was Deichmann’s opposite-field single that brought home Freeman as the go-ahead run for his team-leading 14th RBI.
LSU next faces consensus No. 1 TCU at Minute Maid Park in Houston at 7 p.m. Friday.