Number 10 in the white and purple pinstripes threw ten pitches, all ten for strikes, in his first start for LSU in almost a year.
Eric Walker took the mound as a starting pitcher for LSU for the first time since June 2017. On that day Walker only went two innings before tearing a ligament in his elbow. Tonight, Walker went two innings again, but this time he retired all six batters he faced, striking out three and the Tiger offense erupted for a 17-4 win over the Southern Jaguars.
“I didn’t really think about it being my first start,” Walker said. “It just kinda felt like my third out. It went well and I was happy with that.”
Walker wasn’t the only pitcher making a return. Ma’Khail Hilliard saw his first action in nine months and in one inning of work, the sophomore faced four batters, allowing a hit, a walk and striking out another in 21 pitches of work.
“It was a lot of working out, making sure my shoulder was healthy as possible,” Hilliard said about his recovery process. “It was a lot of physical therapy. At one point I was throwing to Broussard in the training room three times a day.”
LSU (8-0) got off to a fast start, scoring eight runs in the first inning and chasing Southern’s starting pitcher Christian Dixon after two-thirds of the inning. LSU batted around in the first, highlighted by Cade Beloso mashing a three-run home run to right field to give LSU a 5-0 lead and Josh Smith driving in two on a double to left-center before Southern (4-3) finally had to pull Dixon from the game.
LSU would keep the pressure on Southern, scoring again in the second, three in the third and four in the fifth inning. Antoine Duplantis picked up four hits and drove in five runs, Cade Beloso finished with four RBIs, and Chris Reid had 3 RBIs once he assumed Josh Smith’s spot in the lineup. Zach Watson, who once again batted second, went 3-4 and is now 7-10 since being moved up in the Tiger lineup.
By the time the Jaguars got their first base runner on, a Hunter David single up the middle in the fourth, the Tigers were ahead 12-0. Walker and freshman Cole Henry combined to retire Southern’s first 11 batters before David broke through.
“I was a little bit afraid we might come out here today and not have the focus and the attention to detail, but I couldn’t have been more wrong,” Paul Mainieri said after the game. “We came out here and I thought we played really, really well right from the get-go.”
The Tiger offense got plenty of help from the Jaguar defense. By the end of the night, Southern was charged with four total errors.
In typical midweek game fashion, LSU emptied out the roster. All healthy position players logged an at bat and the Tigers utilized seven different pitchers. Walker and Henry each threw a pair of innings, then LSU rotated in Chase Costello, Hilliard, Aaron Moffitt and Rye Gunter in consecutive innings. Riggs Threadgill had to relieve Gunter in the eighth after Gunter loaded the bases.
The 17 LSU runs tied a season high set over the weekend against Bryant. LSU will make it’s first road trip of the season over the weekend, as the Tigers travel to Austin to play the Texas Longhorns.
When the Tigers do take the field in Austin, they’ll have to use a different starting rotation than expected. Eric Walker only threw two innings because he’ll be the Sunday starter this weekend as freshman righty Jaden Hill experienced some arm soreness following his start against Bryant.
“After Jaden had pitched so well on Sunday, the next day his arm was a little bit sore, Mainieri said. “So we just decided we needed to give him a break and we’ll go with Eric Walker.”
The Tigers will also likely be without Gavin Dugas. One of the freshmen competing for the 1B job, Dugas injured his thumb in Sunday’s game. It’s feared that he may have torn a ligament and Dugas will see the doctor on Thursday. The injury could sideline him until May.