Pitching and defense dominated Wednesday night’s baseball game at Alex Box Stadium, but it was a single that Alex Bregman chopped through the right side of the infield in the 13th inning that made the difference in LSU’s 2-1 victory against Northwestern State.
Bregman’s hit off a 1-0 fastball sent JaCoby Jones home from second base with the Tigers’ first run since the first inning. Jones led off the inning against Cameron Brewer (0-1), the third Demons pitcher, with a sharp single to center and went to second on Mark Laird’s sacrifice bunt.
“I was just thinking about using the right side of the field,” said Bregman, who is 18-for-40 during a nine-game hitting streak. “The wind was blowing in, and I wanted to get on top of the baseball and hit something on a line or on the ground.”
No. 3 LSU (19-2), which opens its first Southeastern Conference home series against Auburn at 7 p.m. Friday, won its 19th consecutive game against schools from Louisiana.
Northwestern State (9-14) was the last in-state school to beat the Tigers, prevailing 5-2 two years ago in the Box in its only win in the last 15 meetings.
The Demons begin Southland Conference play against Southeastern Louisiana on Friday in Natchitoches.
“It was really a hard-fought, tough, good well-played game,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
Will LaMarche (1-0), the last of eight Tigers pitchers, threw 2.2 scoreless innings, striking out four. He entered the game with a 6.48 ERA and had allowed 14 base runners in 8.1 innings.
“I’ve had my ups and downs,” LaMarche said. “This was an opportunity for me to go out there and do what I do best, and that’s throw my fastball and be mentally strong out there.
“I didn’t want to over-think anything. Sometimes, when you fall behind a guy, wrong thoughts enter your. I tried to stay positive — I’m going to beat you with my fastball; here it comes.”
LaMarche relieved Hunter Devall with a runner on first and one out in the 11th. He got a boost right away when Ty Ross threw out Nick Purdy trying to steal second. Then LaMarche struck out Matt Burns.
In the 12th, LaMarche walked Matt Baca with one out, and Ross — who earlier threw out a runner trying to move up on a pitch in the dirt — threw out pinch runner Mitch Huckabay trying to steal.
“I thanked (Ross) for that in the dugout,” LaMarche said with a smile.
LaMarche ended the 12th by striking out Zack Costa and retired the Demons in order in the 13th, getting two more strikeouts.
“We’ve been waiting for him to turn the corner,” Mainieri said of LaMarche. “Maybe this was his coming-out party tonight. He showed something extra out there. He was really competing and that was great to see.”
Northwestern State tied the score against Joey Bourgeois in the eighth. Toby Cornejo led off with an infield single, moved to second on Cort Brinson’s sacrifice bunt, went to third on Purdy’s groundout and came home on Todd Wallace’s single to right.
LSU threatened in the ninth, but couldn’t knock out Demons starter Cody Butler. Bregman led off with a single, but was forced out when Raph Rhymes hit into a fielder’s choice. Mason Katz walked, putting the potential winning run on second. Butler struck out Christian Ibarra on a 3-2 pitch and did the same to Alex Edward on an 0-2 pitch.
That finished an outing in which Butler — who entered the game with a 9.19 ERA — allowed just six hits, one walk and one run and struck out five in nine innings. The run came with two out in the first when Bregman doubled and Rhymes singled him home.
“You tip your hat to (Butler),” Mainieri said. “He was magnificent, and so was their bullpen. Then their defense made stellar play after stellar play.”
LSU starter Russell Reynolds, who threw two scoreless innings a week earlier in his only previous start, pitched five scoreless innings Wednesday. He allowed just three hits, struck out two and didn’t allow a walk.
“I didn’t really get behind in the count,” Reynolds said. “I threw strikes, let my defense make plays and they made plays all night.”
After a 1-2-3 first, Reynolds allowed a one-out double in the second and had a 1-2-3 third. He faced his biggest threat with two out in the fourth when he yielded a single to Wallace and hit Burns with a pitch. He got out of it when Edwin Gomez hit into a fielder’s choice.
In the fifth, Reynolds gave up a one-out single to Costa, then got the next two batters.
The pitchers remained in command until Bregman’s winner ended the 3-hour, 35-minute game.
“We didn’t expect it to go 13 innings,” Bregman said, “but in the end, you just have to find a way to win a baseball game.”