LSU bullpen struggles before Buggs shuts down UNO rally in ninth
A freshman pitcher on the mound in his first college appearance.
A six-run lead whittled to three. A man at every base and one out.
In the ninth inning, right-hander Parker Bugg faced this situation.
How’d he deal with it?
Bugg struck out the final two batters to secure LSU’s 7-4 win over UNO on Saturday afternoon at Zephyr Field, giving the Tigers a tight, season-opening, two-game sweep against the Privateers.
LSU won 2-0 in Friday’s opener and plays Grambling at 4 p.m. Sunday at Alex Box to cap its opening weekend in the Urban Invitational.
Starting pitcher Kyle Bouman, a junior-college transfer from Missouri, pitched five innings of three-hit ball and retired his final 13 batters Saturday.
LSU had 13 hits a night after a seven-hit performance in the opener, and the Tigers (2-0) squeaked out a second straight win over UNO and coach Ron Maestri.
UNO (0-2) lost by a combined five runs in two games against a team ranked as high as No. 2 in one preseason poll.
“It’s encouraging. … I just told them that we’ve got to learn how to win,” Maestri said.
Bugg, the only 2014 signee who was drafted, passed his first big test — barely — in front of 7,017 fans in Metairie.
He made what appeared to be an easy win tough. And he wasn’t the only one.
A night after a pair of relievers starred in the opener, a different duo had a disastrous sixth inning, and Bugg had that shaky ninth, leaving coach Paul Mainieri’s bullpen situation still up in the air.
The Tigers bats, though, were good enough Saturday to overcome any imperfections on the mound.
“I think our approach changed (from Friday),” shortstop Alex Bregman said. “I think we were trying to stay on top of the baseball because the wind was blowing in and we had no shot of leaving the yard. More aggressive approach to the top half of the ball.”
Leadoff man Sean McMullen and Bregman each had three hits, and nine-hole hitter Conner Hale had a second straight two-hit outing. Eight of nine LSU batters got at least one hit, and the Tigers played errorless ball for a second straight night.
Even new cleanup hitter Jared Foster broke through. Foster, a junior right fielder, was 0-for-7 this season before a run-scoring double in the sixth inning gave LSU a 7-1 lead.
Foster slid into second base and clapped his hands together in celebration.
“The first one’s always the toughest one to get,” Bregman said.
The Tigers poured on six runs over the second through fourth innings, chasing UNO starter Alex Smith after just three innings.
They built that 7-1 lead and then the bullpen let it slip away.
LSU relievers Brady Domangue and Henri Faucheux allowed four walks, one hit and three runs in the sixth inning. UNO batted eight.
Domangue, a standout at LSU-Eunice the past two seasons, struggled in his first appearance of the season. He followed a line out with three straight walks to load the bases and was yanked after a sac-fly to center.
“We had trouble throwing strikes,” Mainieri said. “Brady had trouble commanding his two-seam (fastball). Put Faucheux in a touch position for his first outing of the year.”
Faucheux, a junior-college transfer from LaPlace, began his stint by throwing six straight balls to load the bases again. Pinch hitter Jonathan Santana then smacked a chopper up the middle to score two more.
Faucheux induced a fly out to end that sixth, the beginning of a solid next two innings for the pen. Faucheux struck out the side in the seventh, and Runnels grad Alden Cartwright, a freshman, sat down the side in the eighth.
Then came the ninth.
Bugg allowed a single, hit a batter, got a strikeout and hit another to load the bases.
He struck out the final two batters.
“That was the big thing. Being in this situation is going to do nothing but help him grow as a player, as a pitcher,” Mainieri said. “You just can’t quantify the importance of being in that type of environment and that situation. He wasn’t goosing the ball up there. He was letting it rip. That’s why I put it out there.”
LSU lost its top five relievers from last season, including school-record-tying closer Chris Cotton. Mainieri is searching for some go-to guys.
Some may have hurt their chances Saturday. One, at least, proved that a freshman can withstand the heat.
Bouman said: “He definitely battled through.”