It was a back and forth battle on Sunday afternoon but one that left LSU on the losing end as errors and a ninth inning meltdown on the mound helped Air Force notch a 6-5 win over the Tigers.
LSU (1-1) got cooking offensively in the eighth inning with back-to-back walks to Morgan and designated hitter Cade Beloso to open the inning. But it was subbed in shortstop Zach Arnold who made the swing of the day for the purple and gold as a line drive to left field would bring in the two leading runs for the Tigers entering the ninth inning.
But a pesky Air Force team wouldn't go down easily. Facing freshman Ty Floyd and veteran arm Aaron George in the ninth, Air Force was able to load the bases with a total of four walks between the two pitchers. In total, three runs came across to make it a 6-4 advantage and LSU just wasn't able to overcome the two run deficit.
"It's a tough loss for us, there's a lot of areas we need to improve in and we're gonna address them," coach Paul Mainieri said. "This is how the young kids have to cut their teeth, you have to bring them in. I thought Ty Floyd aired it out and next thing you know he's in a jam."
It was a particularly bitter pill to swallow as the relief pitching had been the one thing keeping LSU in the game up to that disaster ninth inning.
On the mound, junior Landon Marceaux started the afternoon perfectly as he retired eight of the first nine batters he faced with great command of his fastball. Through three innings, he was wheeling and dealing through the Air Force lineup but the fourth is where the LSU defense ran into some trouble.
Holding a 2-0 lead at the time, a trio of errors from third baseman Will Hellmers led to three unearned Air Force runs. It's been a difficult first two games for the true freshman out of Jesuit High School, who just recently returned to the team after being in quarantine due to COVID-19.
"As a teammate you've gotta keep your guy up," Cade Beloso said. "Baseball always finds you, it's funny that when things are going wrong it always seems to find you. We're gonna continue to talk to Will and I know he's gonna make the plays next time. He works extremely hard and he's one of the best players we have."
Ahead of this weekend's games, Mainieri said he envisioned Marceaux going no longer than five innings and stuck with his guns. Marceaux was pulled after five innings, allowing two hits and two unearned runs with four strikeouts.
Mistakes and injuries led to a change as Mainieri would insert freshman Zach Arnold at shortstop when centerfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo went down with a hamstring injury. Fellow freshman Jordan Thompson would replace Hellmers at third starting in the seventh inning with the Tigers trailing 3-2.
Through two games of the season, freshman first baseman Tre' Morgan is undoubtedly the most eye popping player to watch. His smooth swing, electric speed on the bags and plate discipline have all been on full display. Fellow freshman Dylan Crews went 2-for-4 with his first home run of the season.
After a 1-for-2 opening day performance that included three walks, Morgan went 2-for-3 at the plate Sunday which included an RBI. In his 10 plate appearances this season, Morgan has reached base eight times either through a hit or a walk.
Outside of Morgan, LSU's offense struggled to get much going and had to rely on well executed relief performances from freshman Blake Money and junior Trent Vietmeier to keep it a one run deficit entering the final two innings.
"Obviously the concerns I had going into the season have already reered their heads already," Mainieri said. "Left side of the infield has been a struggle and third base is someplace we're gonna have to find a solution. Certainly we need to swing the bats better than we did these first two games."
LSU will be back in action on Monday against Louisiana Tech with an altered first pitch time of 5 p.m. due to weather conditions. AJ Labas will draw his first start on the mound.