Dellenger: LSU’s Alden Cartwright is ‘fearless’ on the mound

More than a decade ago, Mark Cartwright took his son to a garage sale.

Alden wanted some baseball equipment.

Specifically, Alden Cartwright wanted a catcher’s mitt, a catcher’s helmet, some knee pads and any other padding a catcher might need.

At 5 or 6 years old, Alden wasn’t hard to please.

“We bought used catching equipment,” Mark Cartwright said on Sunday afternoon.

Decked in the catching equipment, little Alden would sit in the family’s living room staring at the television.

“He was watching Brad Cresse and LSU,” Mark said. “Brad Cresse was, like, his hero.”

Figures.

Alden Cartwright, now an LSU pitcher, started as a catcher. A bullish, hard-nosed, dirt-lov’n catcher.

It all makes sense now. Coach Paul Mainieri calls Cartwright “fearless.”

He’s a strike-throwing freshman hurler from Baton Rouge who challenges hitters like a linebacker takes on ball-toting running back.

On Saturday in Oxford, Cartwright pitched four innings, retiring his first 10 batters and helping lead the Tigers (30-10-1, 10-7-1 Southeastern Conference) to a third straight SEC series win — this one on the road against a top-15 team.

Cartwright, a Runnels grad, filled what’s been a chasm for this LSU team: a No. 3 starter.

Did he fill it permanently? No.

But for one game at least, Cartwright supplied the Tigers with what they’ve been missing: a starting pitcher who can successfully give three or four solid and successful innings in a third game.

As this LSU team heads down the stretch, that’s important.

With the series win over Ole Miss, the Tigers have positioned themselves to make a late-season run for a national, top-8 seed (those who win regionals host super regionals).

Their RPI, on warrennolan.com, is 13. They’re third overall in the conference and second in the SEC West, trailing Alabama by two games. The Tide visits Baton Rouge on May 9-11.

A national seed and an SEC regular season title are real possibilities. Getting them, though, depends on that all-important No. 3 starter.

LSU’s .268 batting average (that would have ranked in the 140s nationally last week) is concerning, but solid pitching can overcome that.

Ace Aaron Nola can get you a win 80-90 percent of the time. No. 2 starter Jared Poché has the ability to deliver a 50-60 percent winning shot (he’s struggled on the road).

Those Game 3s have been tricky.

Is Cartwright the answer? Maybe. He is at least part of the solution.

“The kid is fearless,” Mainieri said after the 2-0 shutout of Ole Miss on Saturday. “Second of all, he really thinks he’s good. I mean, he probably has a little bit of an inflated idea of how good he is. And that’s great as far as I’m concerned. He was not in awe of pitching against Ole Miss.”

Cartwright doesn’t have the best stuff on the staff. His stuff might not be in the top five among LSU pitchers.

The righty throws in the mid-to-upper 80s with a good curveball.

He doesn’t necessarily have a deceiving delivery like Nola or reliever Parker Bugg. He doesn’t have the velocity of Joe Broussard or the movement of Poché.

What he does have? Confidence.

“He’s just always believed in himself,” Mark Cartwright said. “God gave him a good arm. He’s good at baseball, and he loves it. Plays it with all of his heart.”

Alden Cartwright has walked three batters in 20.2 innings on the mound. That’s tied for the fewest walks of LSU’s 13 pitchers.

He has a WHIP of 0.7742, a number surpassed on the team only by Nola and Broussard.

Basically, the dude throws over the plate and dares you to hit it.

“He’s been catching since he was 8,” Mark Cartwright said. “Got to be pretty fearless.”

Alden is a walk-on, Mark Cartwright said.

He’s a kid who grew up watching his idol, the Johnny Bench Award-winning Cresse, and LSU win the College World Series. He always wanted to be a Tiger.

He spurned a few major college visits after LSU agreed to offer him as a walk-on during his junior year of high school, Mark said.

The family always thought Alden would catch in college. He wasn’t moved to pitcher full-time until his sophomore year at Runnels.

He began throwing the stuff instead of catching it. He took the same approach to the mound, though.

The Cartwrights — Mark, his wife, Alden’s girlfriend and brother — saw it first hand at Swayze Field on Saturday.

“It was a dream come true for him,” Mark said. “It was kind of surreal for us.”