As Cade Beloso prepared for his college at-bat in the bottom of the ninth inning of Saturday's thrilling 6-5 win at Alex Box Stadium, coach Paul Mainieri gave him a simple message.
“Get your money's worth," Mainieri said. "He's going to challenge you with fastballs. Don't be late.”
Beloso, a freshman making his first start, approached the plate with two runners on base and no outs. LSU trailed Army by two runs. Mainieri’s words helped him focus. So did a conversation with his grandfather.
Before every at-bat, Beloso speaks to his grandfather, Butch, who died last October.
“Help me out right here,” Beloso asked his grandfather while he walked toward the batter’s box.
The first pitch of the at-bat, Beloso turned on a fastball. The ball whistled off his bat, passed over the right-field wall and LSU won to remain undefeated — even though it has trailed in both of its games.
“We recruited Beloso to hit home runs,” Mainieri said, “not to bunt.”
LSU (2-0) trailed entering the ninth inning despite a solid debut from freshman pitcher Landon Marceaux. After exploding for 12 runs and four home runs in the season-opener, the Tigers went cold on offense.
Marceaux shut down Army (1-1) for almost his entire outing. He struck out the first batter he faced. He sent down the Black Knights in order four times. He escaped a fourth-inning jam, and in his first start, Marceaux allowed one run.
“He showed up to school ready to pitch,” Mainieri said. “We didn't have to teach him how to do it.”
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LSU provided early run support for Marceaux, scoring two unearned runs in the first inning. Josh Smith hit a leadoff single. He scored on a throwing error following a bunt by Brandt Broussard, who reached third on the errant throw. Antoine Duplantis plated Broussard with a sacrifice fly.
Marceaux entered the sixth inning at 70 pitches, and Mainieri said before the game he would throw 80-90. Marceaux walked the first batter of the inning. He allowed his first run when Army's Drake Titus singled up the middle.
After Marceaux’s third walk of the game put runners on first and second, Mainieri pulled him. The crowd started cheering before Marceaux handed the ball to his coach.
“I was a little shaky,” Marceaux said. “I only gave up two hits, but I gave up three walks. For me, that's unacceptable.”
Army took the lead the following inning. Freshman reliever Chase Costello, the first pitcher out of the bullpen, allowed a game-tying run and loaded the bases with one out. He hit the next batter, Titus, on a 2-2 pitch.
However, the home plate umpire called Titus out because the umpire believed Titus violated rules stating the batter cannot "intentionally make a movement to be hit by a pitch, regardless of where the pitch is located; or allows himself to be intentionally hit by a pitch.”
Army coach Jim Foster argued the call. The umpire ejected him. The call stood after review, and sophomore Trent Vietmeier replaced Costello.
"I think I was a little nervous," Costello said of his first appearance, "a little tight."
The next at-bat, Army first baseman Anthony Giachin cleared the bases with a double off the wall in right-center field. The Black Knights took a 5-2 lead.
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LSU cut into the lead in the bottom of the seventh when freshman Giovanni DiGiacomo scored on a balk. Two innings later, Beloso walked to the plate in position for heroics.
Beloso, who said he'd never had a game-winning hit in his life, didn’t think the ball was going to clear the wall. He expected to reach second base with a double. Instead, the second hit of his career won LSU the game.
Beloso thought about his grandfather as he rounded the bases. He felt the tingling of goosebumps, and while he answered questions, the hairs on his arms stood in the air.
Teammates ripped off Beloso’s jersey once he jumped on home plate. A few minutes later, they shoved a plate of thick, white shaving cream onto his face while he waited to step in front of cameras.
“That’s disgusting,” Beloso said as he wiped his head with a towel.
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Beloso cleared his face, but a layer of cream covered most of his head. It was in his hair, his eyebrows, even his ears. A glob rested on his right shoulder.
He guessed it would take awhile for him to find all of it, but that’s the price you pay when your career begins with a game-ending home run.