As Paul Mainieri set the lineup hours before LSU beat Nicholls 5-4 in the first game of a doubleheader Wednesday afternoon, he arranged three left-handed hitters near the top of the order, two of them freshmen. Mainieri anticipated LSU would face junior left-handed pitcher Joe Taylor in the final innings, and he wanted to see how LSU’s hitters handled the matchup.
Taylor entered in the eighth to face freshman left-handed hitter Brody Drost, who tied the game with a sacrifice fly. He remained in the game through the ninth, still pitching as freshman first baseman Tre’ Morgan, another left-handed hitter, approached the plate with the bases loaded and one out inside Alex Box Stadium.
Morgan lofted Taylor’s second pitch into deep left field. Sophomore Zach Arnold crouched at third base. As Nicholls left fielder Wes Toups caught the ball, Arnold sprinted off the bag. He slid across home plate before the throw reached the catcher and No. 8 LSU won after blowing one-run leads in the eighth and ninth innings.
LSU (7-1) relied on its freshman class often as it stretched its winning streak to six games before playing Southern on Wednesday night. Five freshmen appeared in the starting lineup. Three pitched. Drost drove in two runs. Freshman right fielder Dylan Crews hit his fourth home run of the season. Right-hander Blake Money threw 4⅓ scoreless innings in relief.
“The class as a whole is unreal,” Money said. “It’s a pitcher’s worst nightmare for the opposing guys, but on my side, I love it.”
At first, Nicholls (2-5) took advantage of mistakes by one of LSU’s freshmen, scoring two runs in the second inning against freshman left-hander Javen Coleman. Coleman issued two four-pitch walks before a double cleared the bases.
Money entered, ended the frame and pitched scoreless inning after scoreless inning as LSU took the lead. Money hadn’t thrown more than 22 pitches in either of his previous outings. He tossed 50 pitches and scattered two hits. Money finished with four strikeouts and no walks in his longest appearance this season.
“I got a lot of faith in my guys,” Money said. “I wanted to make sure I kept the score close.”
After LSU tied the game in the fourth inning, Crews approached the plate with one out in the fifth. He hit the first pitch he saw. The ball cut through wind blowing in from left field, sailed past a Tabasco sign and landed 418 feet from home plate.
LSU held the 3-2 lead until the eighth, then Nicholls capitalized on a leadoff walk against freshman right-hander Garrett Edwards. In the bottom of the frame, Morgan hit a leadoff double. He advanced on a throwing error by center fielder Xane Washington.
Up walked Drost, and Nicholls inserted Taylor, trying to exploit the matchup. Drost reached a full count before he lifted a fly ball into deep left-center field. Washington caught the ball at the warning track. Morgan tagged from third, giving LSU the lead.
Nicholls strung together a couple singles in the ninth against senior closer Devin Fontenot, tying the score again until Morgan’s sacrifice fly. As Arnold scored, Morgan lifted his arms. His teammates surrounded him.They pulled off his helmet and his jersey. The freshman had won the game.
“I get pretty excited to be honest with you,” Mainieri said. “We have a special group of freshmen.”