When Gavin Dugas stepped to the batter's box in the sixth inning on Sunday, the LSU offense was reeling. The Tigers had not one single ounce of success to hang their hats on through 23 innings at the plate against Mississippi State.
In a 2-2 tie game, looking for any kind of spark and hoping to avoid a sweep, the junior left fielder had just what the doctor ordered, blasting a solo shot to left field to propel the Tigers to a 3-2 lead and eventually a 8-3 win.
With one swing, Dugas ignited the LSU offense as the Tigers were able to tack on three insurance runs in the seventh behind clutch hitting from freshmen Tre' Morgan and Brody Drost, whose two-run home run gave the Tigers critical separation. Freshman Jordan Thompson would add a two RBI double in the eighth to create more separation.
"That was a huge moment. Gavin has provided a lot of big moments for us already in this young season," Paul Mainieri said. "He's proven that he's a legitimate SEC hitter, that he can hit good pitching. His home run was a huge confidence boost for our entire team.
"Obviously we struggled a good bit this weekend trying to get things going," Dugas added. "You always wanna be that guy that can flip that switch for your team and that's something I really pride myself on. I know there are a lot of people in this lineup that can do that."
Lack of command helped LSU drive Mississippi State starter Eric Cerantola out of the game two outs into the second inning. Cerantola had walked two batters and hit a third by that point, allowing LSU to score two runs in the opening inning off situational hitting, making it a 2-1 ball game early. For an offense struggling as bad as LSU, it made sense to get the starter out to not give the Tigers free baserunners.
Coach Paul Mainieri made some significant changes by inserting Drost for Cade Beloso at the designated hitter spot while Morgan moved to the leadoff spot and Dylan Crews to the three hole.
The contact was there much of the game but once again many balls were hit right at Bulldog defenders. A great example came in the fifth inning when a leadoff double from Mitchell Sanford was followed by a walk to Thompson.
It was one of the few times all weekend the team was able to put the first two batters on base but Collier Cranford would flyout and Morgan would hit a hard groundball right to the Mississippi State shortstop for a double play.
Luckily for the offense, the Tigers were kept in it for a second consecutive game thanks to another solid pitching performance from AJ Labas and some stellar defensive plays from the infield.
Labas surrendered two runs on four hits through six innings of work but most importantly, kept Mississippi State scoreless over the final three innings, keeping the game tied at 2-2. A hit by pitch and single would bring in one run in the first while a double and subsequent sacrifice fly would result in a second but it was the defense behind Labas that really stood out.
It seems every game Jordan Thompson gets more settled as a defensive whiz over at shortstop and Cade Doughty has been pretty consistent at third as well. But the player who truly makes a difference in the infield while on defense is Collier Cranford.
The second year infielder earned his first handful of starts at second base and while it wasn't always pretty at the plate, he was a savant on defense. Cranford made multiple plays throughout the weekend, including this turned double play in the fifth that kept the Bulldogs at two runs.
Labas would be replaced by freshman Ty Floyd in the seventh who struck out the side but would be replaced by Devin Fontenot after allowing three straight Bulldog batters on base. Fontenot would get two quick popflys to end the threat.
Up next for the Tigers is a road outing against Tulane on Tuesday evening.
Photo courtesy of LSUsports.