BATON ROUGE - LSU's Zach Watson is finally learning how to swing correctly.
After deciding to finish his follow through with two hands instead of one on Friday afternoon, the freshman from Ruston via West Ouachita High in West Monroe has hit two home runs in back-to-back games for the Tigers.
Watson's pair of homers Saturday night led No. 4 seeded LSU to an 11-6 victory over Southeastern Louisiana in the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional at Alex Box Stadium and gave the 5-foot-11, 166-pound center fielder eight homers for the season.
"He might have more homers than Greg," LSU shortstop Kramer Robertson answered when Watson was asked how many home runs he'd have had he started using two hands throughout the whole swing back in March. Greg Deichmann leads LSU in home runs with 19.
"We're never going to live this down," LSU coach Paul Mainieri laughed.
Watson put the Tigers up for good at 6-5 in the fifth with a solo home run off Southeastern starter Mac Sceroler, a nephew of LSU pitching great Ben McDonald who took the loss to fall 9-2. Sceroler lasted four and one third innings as he allowed eight runs on eight hits with four walks and two strikeouts.
LSU took an 8-5 lead later in the fifth on an RBI single by Robertson, who finished 4-for-4, and on an RBI ground out by Cole Freeman.
Then Watson struck again in the sixth with another two-handed, two-run home run to left field for a 10-5 lead. Deichmann was aboard with a walk as Watson was moved up from No. 9 in the order to No. 5 after homering twice in the 15-7 win over Texas Southern Friday night.
Deichmann, who has been frequently walked intentionally this season, may have finally found someone to adequately protect him. Watson finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs and three runs scored on the night and is 5-for-10 with seven RBIs and five runs scored since trying the two-handed approach.
"Greg told me to go with two hands before," Watson admitted with a grin. "It's just a mindset."
A mindset that Watson may never let leave his mind now.
"I'm going to stick with this," he said.
Probably a good idea as Watson became the first LSU player to hit four home runs in a NCAA Regional since Zeph Zinsman did the trick back in 2001.
The Tigers (45-17) advance to an 8 p.m. game Sunday against the winner of a 3 p.m. game Sunday between Southeastern (37-21) and Rice (32-30). Rice eliminated Texas Southern (20-34) by a 13-6 score in a rain delayed game Saturday afternoon and night that pushed the start of LSU's game from 7 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.
The Tigers can win the NCAA Regional with a win Sunday night and advance to a best-of-three home Super Regional against the winner of the rain delayed NCAA Regional in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. If LSU loses Sunday night, it will have another chance to win this double-elimination tournament at 6 p.m. Monday. But the Tigers plan on going with both hands Sunday.
"My follow through was with one hand," Watson said after his double homers Friday. "Everybody says I let go of the bat before I even make contact."
He was being compared to Ken Griffey Jr., but didn't have nearly as many home runs.
So at batting practice Friday, Watson went up to hitting coach Micah Gibbs.
"Hey Coach," Watson said, "Do you think I should swing with two hands all the way through?"
And Gibbs said, "Yeah, give it a shot."
Meanwhile, LSU ace Alex Lange settled down after early trouble to improve to 9-5 on the season. He pitched six innings, allowing eight hits and five runs with one walk and six strikeouts. From the third through the sixth, Lange gave up just two hits.
The Lions put up six hits in the first two innings off Lange and took a 5-4 lead with four runs in the second inning on five hits, three stolen bases and a perfectly executed double squeeze sacrifice bunt by Ryan Byers that scored two runs for the lead. LSU tied it 5-5 in the third inning on a RBI single by Beau Jordan.
Byers also led off the game with a home run to left field off Lange, who just didn't seem to have it in the early going. Brennan Breaud and Carson Crites flew out in the inning, but each went to the warning track in right field.
The Tigers took a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the first as Sceroler struggled as well with three wild pitches, two walks and a balk while allowing three hits, including a two-run home run by Josh Smith for the 4-1 score. Robertson led off the LSU first with a walk, reached second on a wild pitch and scored on Freeman's RBI single. After Antoine Duplantis lined out to second base, Deichmann singled to score Freeman from second to put LSU up 2-1. Then Watson popped out for the second out. But Smith launched one over the right field wall for the 4-1 advantage. Sceroler walked two more before getting Jake Slaughter to ground out to first.
Slaughter replaced Nick Coomes at first base in the lineup as Coomes injured his thumb in Friday's game, Mainieri said. Coomes, who had been batting fifth behind Deichmann, was 2-for-his-last-13 and neglected to cover first base Friday for an error on a grounder to shortstop.
When Coomes returns, he will likely have trouble getting the No. 5 slot in the order back.
Watson plans on holding on to it with both hands.
"It has worked out really well," he said.
Glenn Guilbeau covers LSU sports for the USA Today Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter at @LSUBeatTweet. Coverage of LSU and commentary by Guilbeau supported by Hebert’s Town & Country Automobile Dealer in Shreveport located at 1155 East Bert Kouns Loop. Research your next Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep or Ram at http://hebertstandc.com/