The energy was vibrant in Alex Box Stadium on Thursday evening as catcher Hayden Travinski made a critical tag at home plate to prevent a run. Jordan Thompson's throw to Travinski in the sixth inning was a play indicative of LSU's entire night with the emotions pouring out from players, fans and even coach Paul Mainieri in the dugout.
Behind an electric, career performance from Landon Marceaux on the mound, LSU was able to use an early spark on offense and pick up some insurance runs late to pull out a 5-1 win over No. 5 South Carolina.
Timely hitting was a constant theme all week and the Tigers did just enough early to scrape by. It all started with Tre' Morgan, who in the first inning was able to rip one of his two hits on the evening up the middle for a leadoff base hit. Two batters later, left fielder Gavin Dugas had the swing of the night with a two run homer, his 10th of the season, to give LSU and Marceaux a 2-0 advantage.
While the lead was great to start with, Marceaux was the unquestioned story of this game. Marceaux has proven to be one of the premier arms in the SEC this season and on Thursday, the LSU ace didn't disappoint. He had it all going against the Gamecocks, mixing up his pitches well and blowing away batters on a nice variety of changeups and fastballs.
He would retire all but four of the 27 batters he faced in seven innings of works, firing a career high 12 strikeouts and allowing just three hits and no runs.
Marceaux faced multiple tests throughout the game, the first of which came in the fourth inning. He was cruising through the South Carolina lineup but ran into trouble when a passed ball on a strikeout and a walk put runners on first and second. It was the first real threat the Gamecocks had been able to muster to that point and a fluky one at that.
But like he had all evening, Marceaux was able to sit down the next two batters on strikeouts, ending the threat and keeping LSU on top.
Another Gamecocks push would emerge in the sixth as South Carolina would put two runners onin scoring position but anther strikeout followed by perhaps the defensive play of the year from Jordan Thompson kept it a scoreless game. When it was all said and done, Thompson had saved three runs from the diving catch and the throw to home.
Mainieri said in his 39 years of coaching, there have only been two shortstops he's coached that have had the confidence to go home with a ball like that to save a run. The first was Alex Bregman and the second, Thompson.
"You don't make that play unless you have unbelieveable self confidence in yourself and the ability to do it," Mainieri said. "Arm strength, the hands to field the ball. This kid is growing with each passing day and he's a legitimate, elite SEC shorstop. He's only going to get together and LSU fans are gonna love watching this kid play the next two years.
"I'm just trying to do whatever I can to save runs," Thompson said. "Right before that play home and when the batter came to the plate, I'm coming in and I'm throwing it home. I knew what I was gonna do as soon as the ball was hit to me."
It took until the seventh inning but LSU would get the insurance runs it needed to secure the win. Behind more timely hitting, an RBI double from Dylan Crews and a sacrifice fly from Cade Doughty brought two runs in to get a safe distance from the Gamecocks.
"We're growing. We're growing each and every game, we're getting better and that's as blunt as I can put it," Dugas said. "You can see a lot of the guys in the lineup are getting more comfortable in the league and facing this pitching.
"We're really capitalizing on opportunities and that's huge for us," Thompson added. "I think when we go up there the situation is never too big for guys right now."
Devin Fontenot would strike out the side in the eighth in relief of Marceaux and put away the Gamecocks in the ninth behind his fiery pitching, though he would make it interesting by loading the bases.
LSU will look to take the series outright on Friday with AJ Labas on the mound.
Photo courtesy of LSUsports.