Andy Cannizaro’s huddles are a mainstay no matter the score.
Between innings, as the LSU baseball team’s defense exits the field, the players surround their hitting coach who is either tasked with reinvigorating them or cautioning the club against relaxing.
Friday night’s fifth inning brought the former. LSU was down three runs in a game it would eventually lose 7-1 and had yet to crack gangly Ball State lefthander Kevin Marnon. Cannizaro gathered the group that had, to that point, stranded five runners on base and three in scoring position, trying to ignite a spark.
With two outs, hope flickered. Jake Fraley and Antoine Duplantis smoked singles before Beau Jordan drew a four-pitch walk. The bases now loaded, Bryce Jordan came up in a familiar predicament. Four innings earlier, he rolled into a fielder’s choice with two on and two outs.
This at-bat ended in a similar fate. He sent a lazy popup to shallow right field, a microcosm of an evening where LSU starter Jared Poché allowed four home runs while the Tigers offense finished 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, LSU leadoff hitters were 0-for-9, and seven of the team’s eight hits came with two outs.
The result? An end to the Tigers’ six-game winning streak.
“This is honestly one of those nights where the other team just played a lot better than we did and they deserved to win,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “They just whipped us. It doesn’t happen very often.”
Marnon, a 6-foot-7 Akron transfer who hid the baseball well in his delivery and possessed a tricky offspeed arsenal, stymied the Tigers through five innings, though LSU squandered scoring chances throughout.
After Bryce Jordan’s fielder’s choice left two on in the first, brother Beau lifted a soft popup to first base in the third with Fraley at second and Duplantis at first. Bryce struck out on a high, 2-2 fastball in the sixth, stranding his brother at second — the Tigers’ 10th stranded runner of the night.
“It was hard for us to get that leadoff guy on,” Bryce Jordan said. “We’re going to come out tomorrow and prove to them what we’ve been doing all along; our approach all along is just going to pay off. … (Marnon) made us look bad, but other than that we were seeing him pretty well. He just got the better of us tonight.”
Marnon posed for photographs with family and friends among a tiny but vocal Cardinals contingent that, by night’s end, drowned out a dreary Friday night crowd that had long since filed out.
“I got ahead with my fastball early, and my change was getting some weak outs. Toward the end of my outing, my slider started to come alive,” Marnon said. “It was a great win for our team.”
Poché, who had not been scored on in his previous two starts, entered the second inning with a 14-inning scoreless streak before Jarett Rindfleisch rocked a towering solo home run to lead off the second on Poché’s 84-mph, 0-1 changeup.
The Lutcher lefty, who took his first loss of the season and saw his ERA rise from 0.92 to 2.49, lumbered through his first three innings on 62 pitches, issuing another home run to Alex Call in the third, this one a two-run shot that drove in Ryan Spaulding, who doubled to the base of the left-field wall.
Rindfleisch added another home run to left field in the sixth, followed two batters later by Sean Kennedy, who tattooed the Cardinals’ fourth of the night off Poché into the left-field bleachers, signaling the end for the LSU southpaw.
Three of the four home runs off Poché came on the first pitch of the at-bat, and the fourth, Rindfleisch’s second-inning blast, came on an 0-1 count.
“The only thing I can say is those guys put good swings on balls,” Poché said. “Last couple weeks, that’s been the scouting report on me: Be aggressive early. Like I said, those guys deserve credit.”
And that’s what the Cardinals got afterward.
Mainieri, a veteran of midwest baseball during his days at Notre Dame, warned all week of the scrappy, talented bunch that — until Friday — most in Louisiana hadn’t heard much about.
“They played loose,” Cole Freeman said. “They had two or three dudes with leg kicks, and they were timed up.”
Added Mainieri: “They just played better than we did tonight.”