Following the first 15 innings of its series at Arkansas last weekend, LSU had been outscored 17-4.
The Tigers appeared to be headed for its first series loss against the Razorbacks in six years. But then, LSU had one of those turnaround rallies as it did a season ago against Arkansas when a possum ran on the field at The Box.
The Tigers came back from an eight-run deficit last year to beat the Hogs 10-9. Last Saturday, LSU wiped out a seven-run deficit and knocked off Arkansas 10-8. Freshman Eric Walker threw a four-hit the next afternoon to give the Tigers a 2-0 victory in the rubber game of the series.
“Arkansas was outplaying us by a pretty wide margin for about 15 innings,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Their shortstop who had made two errors in 30 games threw the ball away in the ninth inning. Maybe the spirit of the marsupial was with us.
“I chose the craziest sport in the world to coach. You can’t panic. You can’t climb out on the ledge every time something goes bad. This game is so unpredictable. The weekend didn’t go as we would have drawn it up, but we’ll take it.”
The numbers would indicate that it was a long weekend for the Tigers. Among the regulars, only Greg Deichmann and Zach Watson had a hit in each game. Kramer Robertson and Antoine Duplantis were a combined 1-for-21 with no RBIs.
Starting pitchers Alex Lange and Jared Poche allowed a combined 10 runs 15 hits in 7.2 innings. Lange did not get out of the fifth inning, while Poche didn’t make it through four innings. The team batting average in the series was .242, while the team ERA against Arkansas was 5.53.
Still, the Tigers found a way to hand the Razorbacks back-to-back home losses. The Hogs had been beaten just once at home all year prior to Saturday.
“Arkansas’ first two starting pitchers (Blaine Knight and Trevor Stephan) were as good as we’ve seen all year,” Mainieri said. “Things didn’t look so great in the middle of game Saturday.”
Obviously, Walker was the pitching star of the weekend for the Tigers as he threw a four-hit shutout on a day neither Hunter Newman nor Caleb Gilbert was available to pitch. Walker became the first LSU pitcher to throw a shutout in the rubber game of a Southeastern Conference series since 2005.
“After six innings, I am thinking ‘can Walker really pitch a shutout in the rubber game at Arkansas,’” Mainieri said. “We made some great plays on defense and Walker held on. Walker is a pretty good Sunday guy. The team has a lot of confidence in him. He is out best No. 3 pitcher since Aaron Nola.”
There were a couple of unexpected key contributors against the Razorbacks – backup catchers Nick Coomes and Jordan Romero. The two individuals, who played at both Baton Rouge Catholic High School and LSU-Eunice, were a combined 7-for-17 in the series with three RBIs.
Coomes, who has been Michael Papierski’s main backup behind the plate, had two hits in the Tigers’ come-from-behind victory Saturday. He started a three-run eighth with a double and had a single in a five-run ninth. Coomes drove in LSU’s first run Sunday with a double.
“I try to stay in the game by talking with guys on the bench during the game,” Coomes said. “I have had experience in junior college. It’s tough not playing a lot, but I have to learn how to come off the bench. We need to realize now that no matter where we play, home or road, we can come back and win.”
Mainieri inserted Coomes in the lineup because he provides more of an offensive threat than Papierski. He was not concerned about Arkansas stealing, so he went with Coomes in the last game of the series.
“Papierski can stop the running game,” Mainieri said. “Coomes brings more offense to the team. “He rips a double down the leftfield line and gets a single in the ninth on Saturday. Then, he gets a big double Sunday. He struck out with the bases loaded later, but he can’t do it every time.”
Romero was utilized as the designated hitter in all three games. He went 4-for-11, including a home run in his first plate appearance Friday. Romero has been bothered by a shoulder injury which has limited his playing time behind the plate.
“Jordan is finally healthy,” Mainieri said. “He caught against Grambling (last Tuesday) and that got him into the flow of playing again. We need another home run bat in the lineup besides Deichmann. That puts a lot of pressure on Deichmann. It’s good to get a run without needing three hits.”
The Tigers will face Louisiana-Lafayette in the Wally Pontiff, Jr. Classic at ‘The Shrine on Airline’ in Metairie on Tuesday (7 p.m. Central/Cox Sports). Then, LSU plays host to Ole Miss in a three-game series at The Box beginning Thursday.
“So, here we are one game out of first place (in the SEC),” Mainieri said. “All of our goals are in front of us. The best thing the players can do is tune out what other people are saying about them.”