LSU ended the opening weekend of SEC play on a high note by completing the sweep of Kentucky with a 7-2 victory Sunday.
Eric Walker contributed his best start since his return from Tommy John surgery, throwing 4.1 innings where he only allowed one run on three hits and struck out five while issuing no walks.
Head coach Paul Mainieri pulled him in the fifth inning after he allowed back to back singles, but that was a move born out of the fact that he had a full bullpen to work with after just using four pitchers Saturday.
Walker and the bullpen’s outing continue a positive trend for LSU pitching, who complete the weekend with just eight runs allowed.
“Guys were just throwing strikes,” assistant coach Sean Ochinko said in place of Maineiri. “We knew that as time goes on, things will come together. Guys will get better, guys will find out their roles, and kind of turn the corner. There’s a lot of season left but we’re extremely happy about this weekend and getting three wins in the SEC. You can never take that for granted.”
“We just tried to come out and pitch like we know we can pitch,” Walker said. “Stay within ourselves and pass it to the next guy.”
It took until the fourth inning for LSU to record their first hit, a single to right from Chris Reid. That single should have been negated by a slow roller from Daniel Cabrera, but the grounder bounced under second baseman Elliott Curtis’ legs. Reid moved to third on the error, where he scored on a soft single from Saul Garza to center.
The Wildcats were able to respond and chase Eric Walker with back to back singles from Coltyn Kessler and Austin Schultz. The Wildcats elected to trade outs for runs, bunting the runners twice to tie the game.
The Tigers responded directly with three straight singles from Brandt Broussard, Josh Smith, and Watson. Duplantis bunted both runners over for Chris Reid, who brought two runs home with a single to left to put LSU ahead 4-1.
“Chris puts up tough at-bats,” Ochinko said. “He battles pitchers, he goes deep in counts, he’s not an easy out, he uses the field, he goes the other way. He’s really been an all-star for us this season. He’s been a huge boost for our offense with the way he’s been swinging the bat and with defense. Chris where he’s at right now is awesome for the team and has been a big help.”
LSU picked up insurance with three more runs in the bottom of the 7th inning after Smith led off the inning with a walk before a single from Watson. Antoine Duplantis brought both runners home with a triple off the right field wall before Cabrera hit a ground ball to bring him home and give the hosts a 7-1 lead.
Kentucky was able to get a second run on a solo shot in the 8th, but that was the extent of their rally.
After their shakey start to March, the weekend was exactly what the Tigers need to build confidence heading into the season inside of the season that is conference play, especially for the pitching staff.
“Obviously it’s tremendous for our confidence,” Reid said. “We haven’t been playing up to par or how we should be. Just to see our pitching staff come up huge in big situations was awesome. They pitched their butt off all weekend and they did a phenomenal job. They grinded it out when we needed them to grind it out, when we put them in tough situations. They did what they had to do to get out of it and allow us as an offense be in a position to thrive.”
“It was definitely a good weekend as far as getting some confidence under our belt,” Walker said, “Anytime you can win three games in the SEC it’s a confidence booster. Whenever you can let up eight runs in a weekend, that’s pretty good in the SEC. I think it’s a mental boost going forward.”