LSU baseball practiced with two-strike counts. How it helped end losing streak, beat UL.
BATON ROUGE - Maybe they were overthinking it. Or perhaps there was a hangover from the poor performance against Arkansas.
Whatever it was, LSU baseball's offense was in a funk.
The Tigers had scored just two runs in their last 21 innings played heading into the bottom of the fourth inning against UL on Tuesday night. But it was a funk the Tigers (24-12) eventually snapped out of, scoring five runs in the frame to pull away from UL (20-16) in the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic and securing an 8-4 victory at Alex Box Stadium.
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But before that fourth inning, a negative tendency had appeared. In three trips to the plate on Tuesday, LSU had mustered just one hit — a Tre Morgan home run — and were trailing 2-1.
And after a three-game series against Arkansas that resulted in LSU getting swept and scoring just six times in three games, Tigers fans may have been wondering: Was Tuesday's slow start a fluke or the start of a downward trend?
"This (past) weekend really exposed some things that we need to get better at if we want to be a championship caliber team or an Omaha caliber team," LSU coach Jay Johnson said. "We can't watch strike three go by with runners on base. We did it three times in the first three innings on Saturday and that's just an attitude thing and ... a toughness thing. It's certainly not a talent thing if you're looking at the guys we're talking about."
Of course LSU's attack figured itself out in the fourth. Jordan Thompson blasted a two-run home run to take the lead. Then Dylan Crews singled into the hole on the right side to plate two more runners with the bases loaded. And finally, Cade Doughty was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded again to score the fifth run of the inning.
The key to the turnaround was LSU's approach at the plate with two strikes. After being swept by Arkansas, Johnson held a team video session that highlighted a wide-range of issues that had been holding back the Tigers. Generating better at-bats in two-strike counts was among a variety of points that were emphasized.
"They went out tonight and they were really good," Johnson said. "We were awesome with two strikes. We didn't strike out until the seventh inning."
Outfielder Josh Pearson agreed.
"We worked on hitting with two strikes a lot because we struggled with that against Arkansas and we came back to practice yesterday and we practiced it a lot," Pearson said.
For the better part of the year, LSU's offense has been the strongest part of its team. The Tigers came into Tuesday's game third in the SEC in batting average and second in runs.
They also had four hitters with a slugging percentage over .600 and 18-game on base streaks from Crews and Berry, both of which were extended Tuesday.
That was the expectation heading into the season; the offense was going to be what drove the Tigers to victories.
"That was a really good collective effort of two-strike hitting tonight and executing with men on base," Johnson said. "We can be a fun team when we do those things, just because guys have power and we're going to hit some home runs."
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LSU has tended to lose on the few occasions where its attack has not been performing. It got swept by Arkansas after getting shutout for the first time all season. Losses to Florida and Texas happened because the Tigers failed to score more than two runs in either matchup.
That's why the first three innings of Tuesday's game, despite the mid-major opponent, was concerning. With a middling starting rotation and a defense that leads the SEC in errors, any slip up from the offense would be costly.
"Every time we go out there it's going to be huge for our team to be able ... to put up six, seven, eight runs a game," Thompson said.
Koki Riley is a recruiting and high school sports reporter for The Daily Advertiser and the USA TODAY Sports South Region. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.