Amid lineup changes that put old faces in new places, LSU shrugged off poor hitting conditions to squeak past Tulane, 4-3, in Alex Box Stadium Wednesday night.
On an unseasonably chilly night with winds howling in, the Tigers (38-4, 15-3 Southeastern Conference) extended their winning streak over in-state schools to 25 games while boosting their winning streak in midweek contests, which spans over two years, to 33 in a row.
“I’m proud of that,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “It shows that our players, every time they put that LSU jersey on over their head, they take pride in who they’re representing.”
Mainieri tinkered with his potent offensive lineup prior to the game, flip-flopping seniors Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes in the batting order by penciling Katz in at the clean-up spot and Rhymes behind him hitting fifth.
That wasn’t the only change for Katz, who moved from first base to second base to give sophomore Tyler Moore a crack at the starting lineup – sending the first baseman back to his days at Jesuit High School.
“I’ve taken practice balls out there a bunch,” Katz said. “First base gets boring sometimes, so I like to go other places. It felt different.”
The new-look lineup didn’t yield immediate results as Tulane starter Randy LeBlanc breezed through early on in only his fifth start of the season. LeBlanc surrendered only one single through the fourth, stymying Tiger hitters by mixing his fastball with a 12-6 breaking ball and a changeup.
“He was mixing all his pitches really well,” Rhymes said. “He was locating too, which makes it difficult. When you can locate all three pitches for strikes … it’s difficult.”
Rhymes ended LeBlanc’s hot streak in the fifth, scorching a single through the right side to open the frame before going to third on junior third baseman Christian Ibarra’s single that followed. After Moore struck out on three pitches, junior catcher Ty Ross fought off a 1-2 count to send a slow dribbler to shortstop that scored Rhymes and gave LSU an early 1-0 lead.
Tulane responded in the sixth by taking advantage of LSU freshman reliever Hunter Devall, who plunked and walked the only two batters he faced. Then, facing Tiger junior Kevin Berry, Tulane right fielder Andrew Garner smoked a double over Rhymes’ head in left to clear the bases and give the Green Wave a 2-1 advantage.
LeBlanc walked freshman outfielder Mark Laird on four pitches then surrendered a sharp single to freshman shortstop Alex Bregman with one out before giving way to reliever Andrew Reeves, who would subsequently throw a wild pitch to score Laird from third and knot the game at 2.
Just as Mainieri drew it up, Katz and Rhymes delivered, as the former drew a full-count walk and the latter laced his third single of the game to plate two more runs and give the Tigers a 4-2 advantage.
“I felt good during batting practice,” Rhymes said. “I’m here to do anything I can to help my team win.”
The Green Wave struck for another run in the eighth off Tiger junior Nate Fury on second baseman Bowen Woodson’s RBI single. But LSU seniors Joey Bourgeois and Chris Cotton, the eighth and ninth pitchers of the evening, combined to pitch a perfect ninth and seal the win for the Tigers.
“These kids find a way to win,” Mainieri said. “And I’m proud of that.”