Alex Box Magic.
It’s been the theme many times this season, and it seemed to have had an affect tonight. In so many close games or close plays in Alex Box Stadium something has helped LSU. Tonight, it was a specific play, a routine play.
Those routine plays seem to always be overlooked - a ground ball, a flyball or a relay throw. It was the little things that helped No. 12 LSU (22-9) secure a victory No. 11 Texas A&M (24-7-1) in the series opener.
For LSU’s senior infielder Brandt Broussard, typically, the rule of thumb is to hit the ball on the ground. Tonight, Broussard hit balls to the warning track twice even though he tried hitting the ball on the ground. Before coming up for his third at bat in the seventh inning. It was another flyball for Broussard - a routine flyball.
Another easy play seemed insignificant, until Alex Box magic affected the play. Whether it was the screams or the magic, something seemed to help force a drop as Broussard rounded first base. He kicked it into gear and made a move to second, then third.
Broussard rounded the bag as the relay throw came in. Third-base-coach Nolan Cain threw up the stop sign, but the relay throw was mishandled. Broussard charged home and turned the tide for LSU as he tied the game at one. The momentum changed instantly, and the Alex Box magic reigned true again.
“We got a break. We got a big break,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “A little bit of Alex Box magic with the right fielder misplaying the ball and then them messing up on the relay.”
With the magic and momentum on the LSU side, the team turned the energy up a notch. On a first-pitch fastball one inning later, junior shortstop Josh Smith watched a towering homerun carry, row-by-row, up the left field bleachers. Smith turned the fastball around for a 105.8 mph, 402 feet longball.
Smith took his time up the line before the umpire walked up to him. Smith said he meant no disrespect to Texas A&M.
“I’m not the type of guy to be the villain, but, I mean, in this situation the crowd like this and the emotions got to me,” Smith said. “I hit a ball good. No disrespect to them. There pitcher is a great pitcher. Their catcher sure is a great guy, so I’m ready to get back out there again tomorrow.”
The little league “inside-the-park homerun” sparked the charge for the Tiger comeback, and Smith sealed the game with a homerun of his own. But things couldn’t have been so close without LSU’s third quality start of the week.
Junior right-hander Zack Hess continued to improve on his season. He retired the first six batters in a row and - through those six - recorded three strikeouts on his slider. His slider looked sharp throughout his six innings, but it wasn’t his best stuff this season.
“They were putting good swings on my fastball there in the later innings, so I just kind of had to work off of my slider,” Hess said.
Despite not having his best stuff, Hess and his hard-breaking slider extended the LSU pitching staff’s scoreless inning streak to 20 innings before running into trouble in the third. A leadoff double and an RBI single ended the streak and put the Aggies up 1-0.
Things looked rocky during the fifth inning. Through four innings Hess didn’t allow a single walk. After a single, Mainieri called to pitch around a batter. One walk turned into two, and Hess loaded the bases in the fifth. He escaped after a groundout to Josh Smith, and the score stayed at 1-0. Hess ended his night after 98 pitches through six innings with five strikeouts.
The Tiger staff carried over Hess’ success without allowing a run through the remaining three innings. The bats, on the other hand, hit the ball hard - just right at fielders.
LSU left four runners on base and could only muster four hits through the first six innings. LSU only had runners in scoring position twice before scoring off of Broussard’s “inside-the-park homerun” and Smith’s no-doubt homerun.
Sophomore right-handers - Trent Vietmeier and Devin Fontenot - recorded the remaining nine outs for LSU and put the Tigers in a good place for the weekend. Standout performances during the week and strong outings in the series opener leaves LSU with a healthy, rested staff.
With a rested bullpen, Mainieri rotated the starters for the doubleheader tomorrow. Sophomore Eric Walker will pitch the first game and freshman Cole Henry will pitch the second.
LSU kicks off the doubleheader at 2:00 p.m.