Adam Plutko (US Presswire)
LSU entered Sunday's game against UCLA with what they believed was a good game plan on how to produce against Adam Plutko of the Bruins. However, it seemed as though the Tigers could never find an answer to the strategy that he was employing throughout the evening.
OMAHA, Neb. -- When LSU (57-10) took the field against UCLA (45-17) on Sunday night at TD Ameritrade Park, there wasn’t a fan in the stadium that was expecting anything but a great pitching matchup. The game featured two of the top pitchers in college baseball in LSU’s Aaron Nola and UCLA’s Adam Plutko.
One thing that fans weren’t expecting to see was an LSU offense that was picked apart at the seams throughout the game and taken completely out of their element.
Throughout the 2013 season, LSU has been known as a team that could produce runs, not always in a timely manner, but they were productive from the plate nonetheless. On the biggest stage that they have been on so far this season, LSU’s offense was held in check by Plutko of UCLA.
Plutko finished his outing by going seven innings and allowing four hits, one earned run, two walks and only two strikeouts. In other words, he made LSU hit his pitches.
Typically, the pitching style of Plutko would play into the strengths of this LSU offense, which features players with homerun potential like senior Mason Katz, freshman Alex Bregman and junior JaCoby Jones. However, it is a different story in Omaha within the confines of the pitcher-friendly TD Ameritrade Park.
Plutko is a fly ball pitcher that is known for inducing pop ups at will. Aside from a homerun by Katz and two near homeruns by Christian Ibarra, LSU fell right into the lap of Plutko on Sunday night. The Tigers hit into 13 fly ball outs, something that Paul Mainieri felt was a key in the game.
“We knew it was going to be this kind of game,” said Mainieri. “Their pitcher’s a tough competitor. We knew how he’d pitch us, and he did a lot of that. He threw a lot more sliders than we expected, quite frankly, but we knew he’s try to pitch up in the zone, and we didn’t lay off enough of them. We hit too many easy fly ball outs.”
Plutko admitted after the game that Katz got into the homerun that he hit, just as Ibarra almost did twice on the night. However, Plutko also knew what kind of offensive team LSU is and he just had to stick to his game, especially in a park with large dimensions.
“Katz really got into that one,” said Plutko. “With Ibarra, I knew it would be close, but I thought I jammed him enough to keep them in the park. I just pitched to the strengths of this park. And a team as good as LSU, if we try and compete with them, I think we get out of our game plan. Finally, we were just lucky enough to break them down a bit.”
Following the game, LSU’s Paul Mainieri was a little bit surprised by how his team responded to the strategy by UCLA and Plutko.
“We worked all week on it,” said Mainieri. “We set pitching machines, throwing fastballs chest high, trying to lay off of it, get on top of it. We worked real hard on it. I though we had a pretty good play ready and we just couldn’t execute it.”
With the game up for grabs for the entirety of the matchup, it appeared that LSU just didn’t have an answer for UCLA’s approach on the mound. LSU had one leadoff batter reach base on the evening, something that only occurred in the ninth inning because of an error by the UCLA shortstop. That was ultimately the difference in the game tonight as UCLA had a leadoff man reach base in the final six innings of the game.
The Tigers entered the game with their typical aggressive approach and a goal of laying off of elevated pitches by Plutko, which is his trademark.
One look at the scorecard after the game and it is evident that LSU did not lay off of those elevated pitches. If they had, the Tigers might have been able to produce a few more base runners and increased their chances at run production. The Bruins lived off that for the first seven innings of the game.
It seems as though nothing LSU tried was working on Sunday night. The Tigers just didn’t have an answer for the aggressive nature of a pitcher like Plutko.
When the Tigers did have opportunities in the game – typically in instances where they had a runner on and one out – their execution was lacking. Plutko is the type of pitcher that is more than capable of shutting down the best teams in then country, but it didn’t help LSU’s chances when luck just wasn’t on their side tonight.
The main story line in Sunday’s game was execution. UCLA executed in most areas throughout the evening and LSU didn’t. It’s as simple as that.
While the Tigers suffered a defeat tonight, they are not out of contention by any means. However, their road back to the winner’s bracket got a bit tougher with the loss to the Bruins. Mason Katz said following the game that the Tigers plan to do what they have all season and just forget about what happened in their matchup with the Bruins.
“We jut have to flush it like we have done all year,” said Katz. “You just take every day like it’s a new day. Just because against Oklahoma, we won the first day, that didn’t give us any runs on the second day. We jut flushed it and went and played a new game. Unfortunately, we lost tonight. So, every day is a new day.”