Freshman pitches LSU to series win over Auburn

BATON ROUGE —  All of a sudden LSU’s pitching staff looks just fine.

Bordering on dominant.

Freshman Landon Marceaux was just the latest to step forward in the final regular season weekend as he stymied Auburn on just just two hits in his seven innings while  the Tigers won 5-1 to clinch the SEC series.

“Just confidence,” Marceaux said after facing just one over the minimum for his seven innings. “Confidence is it for me. I’m not trying to be somebody I’m not anymore. First half of the year I was trying to be a big strike out guy, come in and impress people. Here’s it’s more pitching to contact and getting deep into ball games.”

It’s working. LSU started the series’ scoring with five straight in singles in the third inning of Thursday’s game — five hits in a row. Auburn has just four hits in two games after Marceaux followed Eric Walker’s Thursday performance with a gem of his own.

“Lot of pressure on him,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He went out and just dominated the game. He was terrific.”

“Landon is a great pitcher. Tonight shows you  what he’s capable of doing,” said LSU DH Caleb Beloso, who drove in two of LSU runs. “I know he went through some struggles at first this year but the last three starts he’s made have been phenomenal.”

LSU (34-21, 17-12 SEC) bolstered its case to host an NCAA tournament regional in two weeks and could make a make a stronger case by completing the sweep in today’s 2 p.m. game.

The win assured LSU of being the No. 5 seed in next week’s SEC tournament, meaning they’ll open in the final game Tuesday night.

“We need to collect as many wins as we can,” Mainieri said. “Especially against top 50 teams to make our resume look good.”

Mainieri is not sure of his starter for Saturday’s final game, in which the Tigers will face Auburn sophomore righthander Tanner Burns (4-3, 2.83), who is projected as a top ten pick in next year’s Major League draft.

Something like Marceaux and Walker have delivered against Auburn (31-23, 13-16) would suit LSU just fine. It certainly left Mainieri with more options after back to back starts of six or more innings, something LSU hadn’t had once in over a month.

“It’s going to be a combination of guys,” Mainieri said of Saturday. “I just don’t know who the first guy is going to be. I have no idea. but whoever it is not going to be out there long.”

LSU’s Zack Hess pitched two perfect innings to finish the game.

Marceaux gave up a single on the game’s first pitch, but quickly erased that with a double play and retired the next 11 batters he faced to see the minimum through four innings.

The only other hit he allowed was the first pitch of the fifth, Will Holland’s towering home run to dead centerfield.

Marceaux promptly retired the next nine battters to depart after seven innings on 92 pitches.

He faced only one over the minimum in his seven innings while not walking a batter with seven strike outs.

“I think we would have seen him pitch like that all year if he would have stayed healthy early in the year,’ Mainieri said of the time Marceaux missed with arm soreness.

On Friday, with the double play and the other Auburn hit coming on a home run, the War Eagles had a runner on base for only one pitch of the entire game, which lasted only two hours, 18 minutes.

LSU, meanwhile, managed nine hits against Auburn, eight of them against starter Jack Cole, who came into the game with a 1.96 ERA.  

“We were able to squeek some stuff out tonight, just enough offense to win,” Mainieri said.

LSU broke through in the fourth after Antoine Duplantis singled and Daniel Cabrera walked, followed one out later by Hal Hughes’ single to load the bases. Cade Beloso was hit by a pitch to get LSU’s first run in, followed by a wild pitch for another.

 Red-hot Saul Garza and Josh Smith then got back-to-back RBI singles to put the Tigers up 4-0.

LSU added a run in the eighth on Beloso’s RBI single to score Chris Reid.