Zac Person speaks of Lil Brown Suga like he’s alive — like he’s a walking, talking animal instead of the furry, stuffed bear that he really is.
Lil Brown Suga asked to join the LSU baseball team, Person says. Lil Brown Suga has his own locker with “sleeping arrangements” in the clubhouse, and he’s got his own Twitter account, too.
He has a glove, a bat and a prime, cushy seat atop the bench in LSU’s dugout during games. He even has cool sunglasses and a white shirt emblazoned with “LSU.”
Is the bear this team’s new can of corn — a good-luck charm, a superstitious item often associated with baseball clubs?
Maybe, but the bear can thank his maker, Person, for what unfolded Sunday.
“I think,” Parker Bugg said, “we’re going to keep him.”
Three LSU pitchers threw a nine-hitter, walked none and struck out six, and the Tigers jumped to a big early lead, coasting to a 6-2 series-clinching win over Auburn on Sunday at Alex Box Stadium.
LSU (31-6, 10-5 Southeastern) won a third rubber match this season, avoided what would have been a second straight disappointing home series loss to a middling SEC team and claimed a series despite missing its best pitcher this weekend.
Person had a one-hit, three-inning start, Bugg threw four innings of one-run ball and Jesse Stallings wiggled free of a jam and closed out the game to deliver the Tigers’ third straight series win over Auburn (21-14, 5-10) in a precarious situation.
Coaches rested star freshman Alex Lange, 6-0 with an SEC-leading 1.39 ERA, this weekend because of arm “tightness” — not a serious issue, coach Paul Mainieri said. Austin Bain replaced him Saturday, leaving LSU to turn to a host of relievers Sunday.
Person, Bugg and Stallings hurled a walk-less, nine-hit nine innings, and LSU broke out to a 6-0 lead in the third, chasing AU starter Rocky McCord and rebounding from Saturday’s 6-1 loss.
Lil Brown Suga watched it all — and even got a brief spot on the SEC Network’s online broadcast over the weekend. He’s similar to LSU’s new can of corn — a good-luck token that sat in LSU’s dugout during the run to the 2013 College World Series.
“We wanted a rally bear. So we got Lil Brown Suga,” pitcher Alden Cartwright said.
Person made the bear at the Build-A-Bear Workshop at the Mall of Louisiana earlier this week. The bear talks: When pushed, it plays a recording that pitcher Russell Reynolds taped.
“We were walking around the mall the other day for an off-day, and this bear came up to us and told us he was a huge LSU fan and would like to be a part of the team,” Person said Sunday, trying his best to keep a straight face. “He’s been running with us since.”
Usually the Tigers’ setup man, Person (2-0) said he was “surprised” by the start and didn’t know it until a Mainieri text at 9:15 a.m. Sunday. He got a win in his career-long three innings and rebounded from his only other start — a five-run, four-hit, 2.2-inning start at Florida last season that still angers him.
“I think in the Florida start my mind wasn’t in the right spot. I was too focused on, like, trying to prove I could still start,” said Person, who was 17-0 as a starter at LSU-Eunice. “In this one, I was like, ‘You know what? I come out and pitch regularly here. I can get guys out.’ ”
Person retired his first four batters and sat down the final two in the second with runners on first and second. He struck out the last batter he faced — No. 3 hitter Daniel Robert — with a man on first, eliciting a fist-pumping run back to the dugout to his friendly, fuzzy friend.
“Good-luck bear,” Bugg said.
Bugg helped shut down Auburn center fielder Anfernee Grier, who had three RBIs and five hits in the first two games of the series. He went 0-for-4 and hit into a double play Sunday.
Bugg tied his career high by pitching four innings, and he left two in scoring position in the sixth before a perfect seventh. Stallings limited the damage to one run in his first inning, the eighth. He allowed three hits but retired the final batter with runners at first and second and threw a perfect ninth.
“If you would have told me before the weekend began that we would have won a series and Alex Lange would not have thrown one pitch for us, I probably wouldn’t have been all that upset about it, quite frankly,” Mainieri said. “Obviously, it’d be nice to sweep the series, but even if Lange would have pitched, who knows if we would have beat (Keegan Thompson) last night?”
Mainieri hasn’t decided on Lange’s next start. He threw long toss on Sunday and “felt great,” the coach said, and many – including Bugg and Lange himself – expect the pitcher to return for a three-game series next weekend at Georgia (20-17, 6-9).
Lange threw Saturday, too, and will throw a bullpen Tuesday — at which point Mainieri will decide on his status for next weekend.
“Everything is looking good,” the coach said.
LSU finished with a combined 20 hits in the series against Auburn — its lowest total in any SEC series this season — and didn’t have a base runner for the final four innings. The Tigers did enough against McCord, though.
They started the game with back-to-back doubles in a two-run first and got another in the second. The first three batters reached in that four-run third, and Kade Scivicque hit a bases-loaded single to extend his hitting streak to a whopping 20 games.
“We didn’t play great this weekend,” Mainieri said. “Didn’t swing the bats like we’ve been swinging them, and yet we still won two our of three games.”
Now it’s on to a home game against Lamar (17-18) on Wednesday before a trip to Athens, Georgia. Lil Brown Suga is along for a ride — one that might not end for a while.
“So far, all of the guys enjoy being around him,” Person said. “As long as he’s making friends on the team, I don’t see why he can’t travel with us.”
Congratulations Tigers on staying at the top of the polls this season! Can't wait to see what's in store for this collection of great players!