It was a tale of two games for No. 12 LSU in the doubleheader against No. 11 Texas A&M.
Game one was “too little, too late.” LSU (23-10) had five errors which gave Texas A&M (25-8-1) the advantage before LSU came back to score four runs in the 6-4 loss. Game two was different. LSU applied pressure throughout the game with a strong offensive outing and a masterful performance on the mound.
During game one, efficiency was not sophomore right-hander Eric Walker’s friend. Through four innings Walker allowed four walks on 90 pitches. He would get ahead early in the count but couldn’t finish.
“I’ve got to be better with my command,” Walker said. “I can’t lose guys when who are even or behind in the count. I’ve got to do a better job coming back and throwing strikes.”
The second inning is what troubled Walker the most. He allowed a leadoff double before forcing a flyout to center field and a strikeout.
Walker would go on to walk the next two batters and load the bases. On a first pitch fastball, Texas A&M drove a ball to right-center field to clear the bases. LSU trailed 3-0 with what seemed to be insurmountable with Texas A&M’s sophomore left-hander Asa Lacy on the mound.
Through the six innings pitched, Lacy was as advertised. He entered the game with a 1.48 ERA - fifth best in the SEC.
“Their kid, let’s face it, their kid was on a different planet,” Mainieri said. “That’s as good a pitcher as you’ll ever see in college baseball. I mean, that’s probably the best pitcher in the league.”
LSU tallied only one base hit through Lacy’s outing. The Tiger bats forced eight full counts and drew four walks but couldn’t stack anything together. Four of the eight full counts resulted in outs. LSU had very little life until the the fifth inning. It was the first chance LSU had to score.
A leadoff single, then a walk put runners on first and second. Back-to-back strikeouts ended the inning, and LSU dwindled its lone chance to score on Lacy. He finished after six innings, 11 strikeouts and allowed one hit.
Junior right-hander Matthew Beck replaced Walker and threw the seventh inning. Beck threw well, but two errors allowed two runners to score. Errors would become common for LSU’s solid defensive team. The team allowed five errors throughout the game — two in the eighth inning — with two from senior infielder Chris Reid.
Mainieri said the errors gifted Texas A&M a few runs, and it made a difference in the outcome of the game.
After the top of the seventh, LSU trailed 5-0 before squabbling another chance in the bottom half. With runners on first and second with no outs, the LSU bats struck out looking and grounded into a double play. It only got worse for the Tigers in the top of the eighth as two errors allowed another run to score. Texas A&M led 6-0.
After the error filled top-half, the bats came alive for LSU. A lead off walk and three hits in the inning led to LSU’s first runs of the game. Freshman infielder Cade Beloso recorded his third hit of the game and tallied LSU’s third run. The lead was cut to 6-3 where it stayed until the bottom of the ninth.
LSU led off the inning with a triple from freshman outfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo. A single drove DiGiacomo in and the lead was cut to two runs.
The Tigers were threatening after Josh Smith seemed to mimic his heroics from the series opener. Smith doubled off the right field wall on a ball that died at the warning track.
“I still can’t believe Josh Smith’s ball didn’t go out of the park,” Mainieri said. “You look up at the flag, and the flag is blowing. The ball is going against the wind, and sometimes those are the things in baseball that have driven me crazy for 37 years.”
Runners were at second and third with no outs. Back-to-back strikeouts put senior infielder Chris Reid at the plate, who has been clutch all season. He hit a ball to dead center, and it seemed as though it would fall, it didn’t. The center fielder caught the ball, and LSU dropped the first game of the series.
LSU came back in the night-cap to steal the series with a 9-3 win behind a masterful performance from freshman right-hander Cole Henry.
The lull rolled over into the second game when Texas A&M jumped out to an early 2-0 lead after Henry hit the first batter and allowed a single to put two runners on base. Another base hit drove in two, and LSU trailed in the first inning.
Henry settled in for the rest of the game. His curveball looked like a true ace’s, and his fastball was on par.
“That’s what big leaguers look like, honestly man,” Beloso said.
He cruised through the next six batters, retiring all of them in order - with two strikeouts on his fastball — before the LSU offense came alive in the third.
With the first three batters reaching base, junior outfielder Zach Watson drove a two-RBI double to tie the game. Watson and the Tigers loaded the bases for Beloso, who singled and scored Watson. Reid was on second and tried to score on the base hit, but he was thrown out at home.
Watson bounced back after a tough weekend at the plate. He finished the game going 4-5 with three RBI’s. He finished a triple shy of the cycle and almost had it in the eighth. On a looper to left field, Watson said he was thinking three out of the box. He rounded seconded and saw the left fielder bobble the ball.
“As I was touching the bag I saw him kick the ball, so I was like ‘alright, yeah’ I‘ve got to go now,’” Watson said.
As the game progressed, Henry seemed to get stronger retiring 10 in a row. The fastball stayed consistent and the curveball’s break held its depth. Henry finished with an eight inning, nine strikeout gem that earned him praise from his coach and teammates.
“I think we’re watching greatness develop in front of our very eyes,” Mainieri said. “Cole Henry is going to be a superstar, as I keep saying in this league. He might already be a superstar. He’s got ace written all over him, and big league written all over him.”
The offense gave Henry breathing room scoring six more runs. On a tough weekend, senior outfielder Antoine Duplantis drove in a run on his first hit of the weekend. Before the base hit, Duplantis was 0-11 with four strikeouts.
With the offense wrapping the game up, Henry was going to finish the ninth. With Texas A&M changing pitchers and the long inning, Mainieri shut Henry down for the night. Sophomore right-hander Ma’Khail Hilliard recorded the final three outs.
LSU capped off a series win with strong outings from Henry and the offense.
“It was a good ending to a long day at the ballpark today,” Mainieri said. “We came about this close to sweeping the series against the No. 1 team, pitching wise, in our league and the team that was No. 1 in our division coming into the weekend series.”