A young team has to grow up quickly when its second series of the season comes against the no. 2 team in the nation and under the gaze of thousands of fans.
The Tribe (3-3) tried to do just that but came up short in three games this weekend, losing at Alex Box Stadium to defending national champion Louisiana State 10-9, 9-6 and 7-4.
“I was very happy with the way we played,” Head Coach Frank Leoni said. “Not only to challenge them but to have a lead in all three games, to have a legitimate chance to beat them all three games, I was very happy.”
The weekend began with a rainout Friday night, forcing a schedule change that turned Sunday into a doubleheader.
Sunday, freshman pitcher Matt Wainman fell behind early in the first game, giving up three runs in the first four innings. However, fellow freshman Derek Lowe was able to ignite the bats for the College in the top of the fifth inning with a home run to right center. Slattery capped the inning with a two-RBI single to right, and the Tribe finished the inning with a 4-3 lead.
The Tiger offense answered with four runs of its own in the bottom of the inning. The teams traded a pair of runs in the eighth and ninth innings, but the hopes of a comeback expired when Ryan Williams representing, the tying run, lined out to second, ending the game.
Junior infielder Jonathan Slattery, who went 5-for-6 in the first two games of the series, credited his head coach Frank Leoni heavily for his offensive success.
“Coach Leoni has a new hitting approach this year,” he said. “I felt like I was getting good pitches to hit and wasn’t chasing after balls.”
Following an hour-long intermission, the Tribe came out red hot in game two. Freshman centerfielder Ryan Brown led off the contest with a double to center field. Two errors by the Tigers, combined with a trio of singles, gave the Tribe—and starting freshman pitcher Brett Goodloe—an early 3-0 lead.
But the advanatge was short-lived. LSU designated hitter Matt Gaudett evened the score with a two-run blast in the bottom of the third. After Gaudett’s blast, the Tigers produced five more runs en route to a 7-4 victory. Amidst the loss, the College witnessed a strong performance from sophomore pitcher Matt Davenport, who held the Tigers scoreless after relieving starter Brett Goodloe.
The Saturday night match-up established the tone of the series and ensured the College would not be overrun by their talented hosts. The first four innings showcased a scoreless pitching duel between junior Logan Billbrough of the Tribe and Austin Ross of the Tigers.
“Logan did a really nice job keeping hitters off balance,” Leoni said. “He mixed his pitches and made sure they couldn’t center up on the ball.”
With one out in the top of the fourth, sophomore Stephen Arcure jumpstarted the College’s offense with a homerun to right center. Slattery doubled to left, followed by an RBI single from freshman designated hitter Jackson Shaver. Billbrough worked a perfect bottom of the fifth and the Tribe added four more runs in the top of the sixth.
“We were feeling very confident at that point, but not overly so, we just thought we had outplayed them to that point,” Leoni said. “We just went out there and didn’t make our pitches the next inning.”
But in the bottom of the inning, the LSU offense came to life. The Tigers scored eight runs on six hits to tie the game at 8 runs apiece. They eventually overcame the College with a pair of runs in the top of the seventh.
The Tribe threatened a comeback in the top of the eighth. Freshman third baseman Ryan Williams led off with a single and scored on an RBI groundout by Ryan Brown. But the rally came up one run short, as LSU pitcher Matty Ott shut down the squad in the ninth for his third save of the year.
“We looked at it just as another game, you can’t build up the hype too much,” Slattery said. “[It was exciting] to get a chance to play such a good team, to see how we stack up against the competition. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Despite the numbers on the scoreboard or the letter next to the game, the players will not soon forget the experience of playing against a power-house team in front of 6,686 fans.
“I thought the guys did a tremendous job handling the hostile environment,” Leoni said. “They stayed professional, they stayed focused — I thought we kind of ran out of gas there in the last game, but I thought we did a good job staying in the moment, staying poised.”
The Tribe will look to rebound Wednesday with a 4 p.m. game against North Carolina Central at Plumeri Park.