KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — LSU was in no hitting skid, they said.
Those six runs over the previous 27 innings could be explained, coach Paul Mainieri and players claimed. The four runs in an 18-inning doubleheader at Notre Dame on Wednesday came in cruddy weather conditions and on a slow artificial surface that kept balls in the infield.
Those two runs in nine innings against Tennessee on Friday night came after a handful of base-running woes – two were caught stealing and one was thrown out at the plate.
Said Mainieri: “I’ve not been concerned about our offense.”
No one is now.
LSU’s scoring skid ended Saturday, as quickly as humanely possible.
The Tigers tore out of their offensive funk with a six-run first inning – they batted 12 – and lefty Jared Poché shook off a month of struggles in an 11-3 win over Tennessee at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, securing the series victory over the slumping Volunteers.
LSU (35-16, 16-10 Southeastern Conference) won a seventh straight game and positioned itself for back-to-back SEC series sweeps. The Tigers knocked around the skidding Vols (26-25, 7-19) from the start in a stunning first half-inning.
“We knew it was only a matter of time before it exploded,” catcher Jordan Romero said. “And it did.”
The first half-inning lasted a whopping 28 minutes and included six hits, six runs, three walks and 46 pitches from two Tennessee pitchers. UT starter Zach Warren, seen as the Vols’ ace, threw 27 pitches before recording his first out. LSU’s first five players reached base, the last three on RBI singles – part of an offensive outburst missing on this week-long road trip.
Six runs in 27 innings, you say? It took eight batters for the Tigers to hit the six-run mark Saturday as Greg Deichmann’s RBI single hopped into centerfield.
“That was a really good boost for our team because the past couple of games we’ve been struggling a little bit to get things going,” right fielder Antoine Duplantis said. “Like people say, hitting is contagious.”
Kramer Robertson, Romero and Chris Reid each had run-scoring singles, and Beau Jordan launched a line drive into the left-center gap to score two. Duplantis and Jake Fraley walked to start the game.
It never got better for Warren, a sophomore lefty who entered with a 3.15 ERA and never had a start shorter than four innings this season. He was responsible for all six runs during an outing that ended on his 33rd pitch, and he recorded just one out – Bryce Jordan’s sacrifice bunt.
The Tigers appeared to know what was coming. They did, said hitting coach Andy Cannizaro.
“We had a really good idea of how he was going to pitch us,” Cannizaro said afterward. “(He) really wanted to throw the fastball in with that slider in. We really wanted to be aggressive, bat head out front and drive the baseball.”
Romero did it the best. He reached on his first four trips to the plate and finished the game 3-for-4 – one of those a soaring home run in the second inning.
His leadoff, solo shot on a waste-high fastball completely cleared the ballpark a day after he miscued on the base paths. Romero raced from third base to home plate on a grounder to third during Friday’s 2-1, series-opening win.
He was thrown out easily.
“I was frustrated with myself,” he said. “It went through my head, what we were supposed to do. (Third base coach Nolan Cain) had just told me that. I just reacted too fast. Sometimes your body reacts quicker than you thought. I saw it hit hard, and I just went.”
On Saturday afternoon, minutes after the conclusion of the romping win, Jordan slid on a headset and looked into a camera for an SEC Network interview – the star of this rout along the Tennessee River.
LSU’s in the hunt to host an NCAA regional and still alive in the race to win the SEC West title. Romero is well aware.
“It’s big,” he said. “We’re winding down to the end of the season. There’s a lot of things up in the air with the SEC and who’s going to win it. Every win is big no matter how you get it. We’re clicking as a team.”
That includes Poché. The junior said he’s back on track after his best game, statistically, in the last month. He sprinkled eight hits over 5.1 innings, allowing two runs and striking out three. The junior from Lutcher allowed 19 earned runs in his previous four starts, lasing a combined 5.1 innings in the last two.
The offense Saturday stole the show, though. The Tigers released a week’s worth of frustration. Cannizaro’s hitters scored just four runs in a Wednesday doubleheader against Notre Dame and two in Friday’s series-opening victory over the Vols.
They needed 11 innings to beat the Irish in Game 1, not plating a run until Fraley’s solo, game-winning home run. They went scoreless for the first six innings of the next game – that’s one run in 17 innings – before a three-run seventh.
They scored two runs Friday.
They didn’t change anything entering Saturday’s game, Cannizaro and Duplantis said. The hits and runs finally came, especially in that impressive first frame.
“It was,” Cannizaro said, “gigantic.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.