Three days removed from a series filled with sparse offensive production and disappointment, LSU felt some relief Tuesday night, at least as much as possible for a program used to winning that had suffered back-to-back sweeps for the first time in more than a decade.
This wasn’t a Southeastern Conference game against one of the top pitchers in the country, but led by sophomore third baseman Cade Doughty, LSU experienced a feeling often absent as it spiraled during conference play the last three weeks: winning.
The Tigers beat McNeese State 14-1 inside Alex Box Stadium, their best offensive performance since their last non-conference game a week ago. Every starter reached base. Only three players struck out. Doughty went 4 for 5 with four RBIs and two doubles.
Now 8-0 against in-state teams, LSU (18-11) hasn’t lost a midweek game this season. McNeese State dropped to 14-14.
“We got to have a little bit of fun playing the game again,” coach Paul Mainieri said.
LSU defeats McNeese 14-1 as the Tigers host the Cowboys for a mid-week match-up, Tuesday, April 6, 2021, at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
The sheer volume of offense came as a bit of a surprise. LSU scored seven runs last weekend against Vanderbilt, and Mainieri left practice Monday concerned about morale. The players didn’t practice well. They looked dejected after the weekend series.
Mainieri talked to them before the practice about perspective, using the season-ending injury to pitcher Jaden Hill and the recent death of Cedrick “CJ” Harris Jr., the 14-year-old son of former LSU player Cedrick Harris, as examples.
“Imagine being a parent and having to bury a 14-year-old child,” Mainieri said. “That’s difficult. Losing a baseball game is something you can bounce back from.”
Mainieri, who wrote Harris’ initials on his hat Tuesday, wasn’t sure if the message resonated with the players. He worried about the team being “flat” after losing eight of its last 10 games.
But Mainieri assembled LSU’s most offensively productive lineup, and the Tigers recorded 12 hits. They went 8 for 18 with runners on base, a stark improvement from their concerning conference numbers.
Over its first 28 games, the Tigers are 17-11, a disappointing overall record fueled by their 1-8 start to Southeastern Conference play, the program’s worst since 1969.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Doughty said.
And in LSU’s first game since it learned junior starter Jaden Hill will miss the rest of the season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, two freshmen made a case to replace him in the weekend rotation as LSU looks for a new third starting pitcher.
Right-hander Garrett Edwards started for the first time since he allowed one run over three innings Feb. 24 against UL. In his audition, Edwards threw two innings. He allowed two hits and recorded three strikeouts, throwing 18 of his 26 pitches for strikes. Both hits came when Edwards fell behind in the count.
“I really wasn’t thinking about the Sunday starting spot going into this game,” Edwards said. “I feel like in my last three or four outings, I’ve been one or two pitches away having a great outing versus just a good outing. Tonight, I focused on making all my pitches and hitting all my spots.”
LSU pitcher Jaden Hill will miss the rest of the 2021 season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, coach Paul Mainieri announced Monday, ending another season for a pitcher filled with upside and possibly marking the conclusion of his college career.
With a 1-0 lead, LSU then turned to right-hander Will Hellmers, who had started four midweek games this season. Hellmers pitched two scoreless innings. He threw 18 balls and 21 strikes, the only two batters who reached base against him doing so because of walks. Hellmers also notched three strikeouts. The last stranded a runner in scoring position.
Hellmers, another option for the rotation, protected the one-run lead through the top of the fourth inning. In the bottom of the frame, LSU broke open the game.
The Tigers, who have relied on home runs throughout the season, had the chance to create movement on the base paths, straining McNeese State’s defense. Mainieri preferred to coach that way, and with runners on first and second and no outs, he asked freshman shortstop Jordan Thompson to bunt.
Once Thompson reached a 3-1 count, Mainieri let him swing. Thompson chopped a single into left field. One run scored. Another crossed the plate when Doughty singled. A third scored on a sacrifice bunt from junior center fielder Giovanni DiGiacomo, who returned from a hamstring strain, giving LSU a 4-0 lead within the span of three batters.
LSU lost all three games it played against No. 1 Vanderbilt, the first two in blowout fashion, 13-1 and 11-2, and the finale in a heartbreaking 5-4 ending.
“You can’t sit around and wait for big home runs or big hits if you’re struggling to score runs, and we’d been struggling to score runs,” Mainieri said. “I was hoping we’d have some situations where we could put runners in motion and try to make some things happen.”
After sophomore catcher Hayden Travinski walked, sophomore infielder Zach Arnold bunted, pushing runners into scoring position for freshman Dylan Crews. He singled, and LSU took a 6-0 lead. The Tigers scored more runs in the inning (five) than they had in a single game last weekend against Vanderbilt.
That was all LSU needed, but it continued to stretch the lead as Doughty walloped a two-run double off the center field wall and Travinski homered for the fourth time this season, allowing LSU to insert backups by the end of a decisive win.
“Let’s get ready now for an SEC series,” Mainieri said, “and let’s see if we can start to put a dent in that SEC record.”