Cade Doughty shifted his weight onto his back foot and waited for a pitch Saturday. There were two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning of a tie game against Youngstown State. The pitch arrived, a looping curveball that dropped toward the middle of the strike zone. Doughty transferred his weight as he swung and watched a home run leave Alex Box Stadium.
Doughty, LSU’s sophomore second baseman, spread his arms wide. His teammates streamed out of the dugout. They waited for him at home plate. Doughty jumped on the plate, and a huddle of players bounced across the dirt. They ripped off Doughty’s jersey, celebrating a 5-3 win after No. 11 LSU lost the lead in the eighth inning.
“Like I told the team after the game,” coach Paul Mainieri said, “it doesn’t always go according to script.”
Mainieri thought the Tigers (5-1) might cruise toward a win after they scored two runs in the first inning and redshirt junior pitcher AJ Labas threw five scoreless frames. But their hitters sputtered against Youngstown State senior left-hander Collin Floyd, who allowed one more run.
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“It looked like we were going to have a good offensive day, but their left-hander was really crafty,” Mainieri said. “He made it really difficult on us.”
LSU entered the eighth inning with a 3-1 lead. Freshman pitcher Will Hellmers recorded two outs. With Hellmers at 30 pitches in his second career appearance, Mainieri signaled for preseason All-American closer Devin Fontenot. He inherited a runner on first base.
Entering the game, Fontenot had surrendered one hit this year. He walked the first batter he faced in a full count. Then Fontenot allowed a single through the left side of the infield. Youngstown State (1-6) scored a run.
“He comes in all the time and usually gets out of situations like that,” Labas said. “It was just one of those days.”
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With runners on the corners, Fontenot reached a 2-2 count against Youngstown State center fielder Lucas Nasonti, the last hitter in the lineup. Nasonti fouled two pitches. He dropped the next one into center field. The game-tying run scored. Mainieri believed injured junior outfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo might have caught the ball.
After issuing a walk to load the bases, Fontenot finally recorded the third out. He walked off the field with his head lowered.
“Devin shouldn’t hang his head,” Mainieri said. “I told him after the game 1,000 times in that situation, I would take him 1,000 times again. He’ll be fine.”
Sophomore left-hander Alex Brady replaced Fontenot in the ninth inning. Brady kept the score tied, helped by a diving catch in foul territory by sophomore catcher Alex Milazzo that re-energized LSU’s team.
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Facing the prospect of extra innings, Doughty walked to the plate with two outs. Freshman right fielder Dylan Crews stood on first base after getting hit by a pitch. Crews wanted to steal second. Youngstown State senior right-hander Gary Clift Jr. repeatedly tried to pick off Crews for the final out. Instead, Clift eventually threw the ball past the first baseman. Crews ran to third base.
“Going all the way to third base put a lot of pressure on them because now if you throw a ball in the dirt that gets away from the catcher, the winning run scores,” Mainieri said. “In a pitcher’s mind, he wants to be a little bit extra careful to not throw it in the dirt, probably hung it a little bit, and Cade Doughty took advantage of that.”
Less than a minute after the errant pickoff, Doughty deposited a pitch 412 feet from the batter’s box, rescuing LSU after it lost the lead.
LSU had little time to celebrate. Its game against Nicholls State began one hour and 24 minutes later. As Mainieri conducted a quick news conference, players changed and warmed up for another game.
“OK," Mainieri said, “Let’s go play again. Long day.”