Before the sixth inning arrived Monday night, Gavin Dugas approached the plate 10 times opening weekend and had nothing to show but a couple walks and four strikeouts.
As he waited to hit with the bases loaded and LSU trailing Louisiana Tech 4-2, coach Paul Mainieri told him, “You win this fight. You win your battle,” harping on an aggressive mindset he wanted to see from LSU’s hitters.
Dugas smashed the first pitch of his at-bat. The ball dropped over the left-field wall. The junior screamed, flexed and jumped his way around the bases. He crossed home plate, and his teammates pounded his chest. The game tied, they appeared reinvigorated.
“When I took that swing,” Dugas said, “I instantly knew that I won my battle and I won that pitch.”
Dugas pulled LSU from a four-run deficit and further sparked an offensive explosion. After his grand slam, the Tigers scored another 10 runs to beat Louisiana Tech 16-7 inside Alex Box Stadium and avoid a losing record during their first weekend series.
Paul Mainieri entered the season with concerns about LSU’s defense at third base. The first two games showed why.
“Sometimes it just takes a couple games to get into it that way and have that confidence,” Mainieri said.
No. 7 LSU (2-1) needed the comeback after Louisiana Tech (1-1) jumped on starting pitcher AJ Labas. The redshirt junior right-hander allowed five runs, the majority of them coming in a nearly disastrous third inning.
Louisiana Tech, which scored 18 runs against Air Force the night before, began the frame with a solo homer. Five straight hits later, including a triple off the right-field wall, LSU trailed 4-0, falling into an early hole. Labas limited the damage as he notched two strikeouts with the bases loaded and one out.
Freshman left-hander Javen Coleman waited in the bullpen when Labas returned for the fourth inning. Not long after Louisiana Tech hit another solo home run, Coleman made his first career appearance. He inherited a runner on first base.
Coleman struck out the first batter he faced. He soon ended the inning. Over the next three frames, Coleman mixed 93 mph fastballs and 76 mph off-speed pitches, baffling Louisiana Tech’s hitters. He made one mistake that resulted in a solo home run. It was the only hit he allowed.
A blown save, three defensive errors and inconsistent offensive production made LSU lose 6-5 to Air Force on Sunday afternoon.
“They told me, ‘Get us back in the dugout and let us swing,'” Coleman said, nodding his head. “I think I got us back in the dugout, and we started swinging.”
Coleman, who finished with seven strikeouts, kept the score close until LSU’s hitters emerged. First, freshman right fielder Dylan Crews shot a solo home run 419 feet over the right field wall. Then sophomore catcher Hayden Travinski hit a pinch-hit single in the fifth inning to load the bases for Crews, who drove an RBI single into left field.
Still, LSU trailed 6-2 as the sixth inning began. Junior designated hitter Cade Beloso knocked a leadoff single. Sophomore shortstop Zach Arnold singled. So did sophomore center fielder Mitchell Sanford, who started in place of injured junior Giovanni DiGiacomo.
“There was no panic,” Dugas said. “We never thought we were out of the game.”
With the bases loaded, Dugas swung through the first pitch he saw. The ball clanged into the metal bleachers underneath the left-field scoreboard. The grand slam, the first for an LSU player since Antoine Duplantis in February 2019, led to an offensive outpouring.
Playing for the first time in 346 days, LSU beat Air Force 6-1 in its season opener. The game ended the longest stretch between games since 1943-44.
The next batter, freshman third baseman Jordan Thompson, hit a solo home run 422 feet into left-center field to take a lead LSU never surrendered. The Tigers added another four runs in the seventh inning and five runs in the eighth as they dug into Louisiana Tech’s bullpen, extending the score well out of reach.
On Sunday night and Monday morning, LSU’s coaches texted the hitters about hunting fastballs, attacking pitches and being aggressive in their at-bats. They had too many empty plate appearances through the first two games.
The offense stumbled for five innings. Then Dugas hit his grand slam, and the aggressive approach LSU wanted created a blowout.
“Once somebody comes through with a big hit,” Mainieri said, “it loosens up the whole team.”