After a long week of baseball, LSU came into Sunday with a chance to sweep the weekend and even up a loss to a local rival. A couple of bombs and some stellar relief pitching sent the Lions home empty handed to Hammond, America.
“This was a good win,” outfielder Beau Jordan said. “Losing to the same team twice, that would have sucked.”
LSU used the power game to get on the board right from the start with an Antoine Duplantis home run to the right field corner. Beau Jordan followed up with a bomb of his own to left in the 3rd, his 3rd of the year. Later in the 3rd, Hunter Feduccia would score on a Daniel Cabrera double that went deep into the left corner. However, Jake Slaughter would be caught out at home on the same play, trying to make it home from 1B on a “generous” go home sign.
In the 5th inning, Nick Webre would score on a Duplantis sac fly to put the Tigers up 4-0. LSU would get runners in scoring position in the 6th, 7th, and 8th, but SLU’s relief arms, led by Jr RHP Jared Biddy were able to put out all fires and keep the Lion’s chances alive.
The Tigers got a good start out of Fr RHP AJ Labas, who gave up 1 hit and 1 walk in his 2 IP scheduled outing. His velocity was not quite where it was expected, but he still has some ways to go recovering from back surgery last winter.
“I can’t help but to be tremendously pleased with our pitching,” Mainieri said. “Labas did what we wanted him to do, Ma’Khail Hilliard was the story of the game, he was outstanding. I probably could have let him go for one more inning but his pitch count was starting to get near where we wanted to cut it down at. He was so dominant, but I wanted to get Vietmeier out there along with Bush and Bain.”
In the postgame, Coach Paul Mainieri said that he would like to see Labas get another start in one of LSU’s 2 midweek games this week (Southern at home Tuesday, UL-Laf on the road Wednesday).
“(Labas) pitched a few pitches less than the max we put on him,” Paul Mainieri said. “Which is good, because I want him to bounce back this week and I was afraid if he got too extended then he would have a tough time bouncing back. He showed what he is: he’s gonna throw the ball over the plate and he’s going to get some weak contact. Once his velocity picks up a little more he’s going to get more strikeouts as well. He’s going to be an Eric Walker type pitcher.”
Fr RHP Ma’Khail Hilliard was next on the mound and was given an extende outing to see if he could handle a serious workload. Hilliard was brilliant, going 4 IP with 1 hit, 1 walk and 4 strikeouts, showing great command. It won’t be long before Hilliard gets a starting opportunity.
“I feel like I can take a starting role,” Hilliard said. “But anywhere coach puts me I’m going to keep doing my job. If I’m a closer, short relief, or long relief, I just want to go in and get W’s for my team to be honest. I feel like anybody can take a spot right now. The way Zack Hess and Caleb Gilbert have been going I’m starting to feel and settle into a starting role.”
But it wasn’t all rosy on the mound. After 5 games in 6 days, the bullpen neared it’s breaking point. Fr RHP Trent Vietmeier started the 7th and never really found his rhythm. After inducing a popout, he hit SLU DH Preston Faulkner (the most Ole Miss name I’ve heard in a while) and then gave up a moonshot home run to the right bleachers by Kyle Schimpf, little brother of former Tiger and major leaguer Ryan Schimpf. Suddenly it was 4-2 LSU in the 7th and the Lions had grabbed a lot of momentum. Vietmeier was immediately pulled for So LHP Nick Bush. Bush gave up a walk and a double, but managed to escape the inning without any further damage.
As the Lion’s bullpen stymied LSU at the plate, the Tigers were able to pull together a win with some good defense. Bush saw the minimum on the 8th, striking out two, then gave way to the do-it-all Austin Bain. Bain also hit Faulkner, but a great double play started by Hal Hughes erased the Lions chances. Bain struck out SLU catcher Daniel Wasinger to end the game and notch the first save for LSU pitching of the year.
The Tigers went 4-1 on the long week, and they’ll have to do it all over again with another 5 games this coming week. Getting this kind of success when your bullpen is stretched will build the kind of confidence a team needs when it comes to conference play, and especially the SEC and NCAA tournaments. And as LSU’s long IR list starts to empty, the possibilities will only improve.