LSU moved into the proverbial catbird seat after their 8-4 victory over Southern Miss Saturday night.
The Tigers gave up a four-run lead on one swing of the bat in the seventh inning, but promptly took the lead back with a three-run eighth.
LSU starter Cole Henry shined bright in an abbreviated outing, allowing the Tigers some room to operate out the gate. Henry went five innings where he allowed no runs on two hits while walking three and striking out six.
“Cole Henry clearly shows you why in my opinion he’s going be, if not already, one of the best pitchers in the country,” Mainieri said. “This kid hasn’t [pitched] in a month, went an inning plus last week at the SEC Tournament and went out there tonight and pitched like a seasoned veteran. He dominated the game for five innings. He was phenomenal.”
“I just tried not to overthink it,” Henry said. “It was just another start. Just not trying to do too much. Trust my pitches, Let (LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn) call the pitches and just hit my spot and execute.”
LSU opened the scoring in the top of the second when Cade Beloso hit a high arching shot into the the right field bleachers to give LSU a 1-0 lead.
The Tigers weren’t able to add to their lead until the sixth inning when Brandt Broussard led off with a double. He advances to third on a groundout and came in to score on a Beloso sacrifice fly. After Daniel Cabrera reached on a hit by pitch, Zach Watson uncorked a two-run home run to left field to push LSU ahead 4-0.
Then, in the bottom of the seventh, disaster struck for the Tigers. Todd Peterson lost all control, loading the bases with no outs after two hit by pitches and a walk. Zack Hess was called in to squirm out the jam, but instead gave up a game-tying grand slam from Matthew Guidry.
“Zack had the guy down to two strikes and I thought he threw a really good pitch, a slider down and in. The kid just went down and got it then golfed it out.”
LSU responded directly with a leadoff double from Cabrera followed by a free base awarded to Beloso after a hit by pitch. Zach Watson walked to load the bases for Saul Garza, who brought in two runs with a single to put the Tigers back ahead. Chris Reid scored Garza with a single to right to give LSU a 7-4 lead.
“Tie ball game, I was just trying to do something productive and have a good at-bat,” Garza said. “I’m not trying too much, just trying to find the barrel and drive it out the infield. They had the infield in so we were just trying to get that run in.”
Garza’s hit was especially impressive to Maineri, who was equally impressed with Garza’s cool demeanor at the plate as he was with the hit that followed.
“He’s up there at the plate, the crowd is on their feet, there’s 11,000 people screaming like crazy, I just can’t imagine that he’s ever been in that position before in his life,” Mainieri said. “And he had such a calmness about him up at the plate. His calmness gave confidence to me and to the rest of the team that he was going to come through. And then he came through with that big hit. And then to show you how much he’s grown as a player, not only did he get the hit but he hustles and takes second base on the throw. That ended up being huge because Chris Reid drove him in from second base.”
The Tigers added an insurance run in the top of the ninth after Josh Smith ripped a leadoff double to right center. The Golden Eagles intentionally walked Duplantis to the chagrin of the Alex Box faithful, only to have him steal second and force USM to intentional walk Cabrera to load the bases. Smith came home on a wild pitch, but LSU couldn’t scratch any more runs across.
“I was really hoping our offense would give me a lead again because I didn’t really want the people of Baton Rouge to burn down my house tonight,” Hess said. “Those guys have picked me up all year. They went out and swung the bats with a lot of authority tonight. A lot of clutch hitting tonight. At that point you just want to reward that effort and go out there to throw up zeros.”
In the end Hess came around to save a brilliant effort from the LSU arms with a three inning outing where he only allowed one run on two hits, struck out four and walked one. Southern Miss finished the day with four runs on just five hits.
“(Hess) gives up a home run and then he goes right through the middle of the order 3,4,5 with the score tied and gives us two more shutout innings,” Maineri said of his newly-rediscovered closer.
LSU will face the winner of Southern Miss and Arizona St at 8pm tomorrow night. Mainieri announced that Eric Walker with start for LSU.