Baseball season is officially back! The consensus #1 ranked Fightin’ Tigers of LSU began what will hopefully be a season to remember over the weekend against Western Michigan and looked every bit as good as a #1 team could look. Let’s get into the weekend that was
Friday: LSU 10, Western Michigan 0
LSU got the 2023 season off on the right foot by blanking Western Michigan 10-0. Paul Skenes looked every bit like the ace we had heard about all fall throwing six shutout innings where he only allowed three hits and walked one. Skenes also struck out 12 which is the most Ks in a season opener since 1995.
Dylan Crews went 2-3 with two runs scored; VCU transfer Ben Nipolt collected two RBIs in his first game as a Tiger; speaking of first games as Tigers, freshman catcher Brady Neal got the start behind the plate and hit a triple in his first collegiate at bat.
Fellow freshman Jared “Bear” Jones got the start at DH and went 2-3 with a double, drove in two runs, and drew a walk. Vanderbilt transfer Christian Little also made his LSU debut and pitched two perfect innings of relief work. Little struck out three of the six batters he faced, and 18 of his 22 pitches were for strikes.
Friday wasn’t all perfect, however as Tommy White left the game in the first inning after sliding back into first on a pickoff attempt.
Tommy White got injured in a pickoff attempt in his first inning with LSU— Farm To Fame (@FarmToFame_) February 17, 2023
Jay Johnson said after the game that it was a shoulder injury but the training staff was able to pop it back into place.
“I don’t think it was as bad as maybe it looked” Johnson said. “I don’t think he will play (Saturday).* Probably as positive as it could be, but I don’t know everything. It was the shoulder.” White apparently has a history of shoulder problems, as he came out of a game last season at NC State for a similar reason.
*White also did not play Sunday
Saturday: LSU 5, Western Michigan 3
Riley Cooper got the nod to start Saturday and the junior lefty was just as impeccable as Skenes. Cooper went 5.1 innings of no-hit ball and had seven strikeouts versus just two walks.
“Riley can throw four pitches for strikes” Johnson said, “and when you’re a hitter, that’s a lot to deal with. I don’t think they really took a good swing on him all day, and that’s a credit to his location, his movement and his changing speeds.
Gavin Dugas recorded LSU’s first homer of the 2023 season with a leadoff shot to the Left Field Landing in the first.
Neat year, new graphic, same result pic.twitter.com/bI1eTY2Rxs— LSUBaseballData (@LSUBaseballData) February 18, 2023
Jared Jones continues to impress in just his second career collegiate game, and scored Dylan Crews by way of an RBI single in the first. Jones drove in two Friday and on the season has three RBI.
That's an RBBI: Run Bear Batted In— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) February 18, 2023
The youth movement didn’t stop with Jones. True freshman outfielder Paxton Kling hit an RBI triple in the fourth, and then was brought home on an RBI groundout by Ben Nippolt.
Paxton to the wall!— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) February 18, 2023
WMU - 0
LSU - 3
Bryce Collins came on in relief of Riley Cooper and ran into a bit of trouble. Collins only threw 11 pitches but was chased after facing four batters. Collins surrendered two hits and two runs and was replaced in the sixth by Nate Ackenhausen. Ackenhausen finished off the game and collected the save going 3.1 innings with only surrendering one hit.
“Nate’s performance was not a surprise to us,” Johnson said. “He’s poised, much like Riley, and he throws every pitch where he wants to. He threw strikes that weren’t easy to hit, and I’m really proud of his performance today.”
Sunday; LSU 9, Western Michigan 2
True freshman Chase Shores made his collegiate debut and pitched okay. Shores went 3.1 innings before being relieved by Sam Dutton. Shores allowed two hits, walked two more batters, and was charged with a run. Dutton finished off the third and Ty Floyd came on in the fourth.
Floyd was awesome. He pitched three perfect innings and struck out four of the nine batters he faced.
“Ty came in with the game tied, and he got the momentum back in our dugout, and we rolled from there,” Johnson said. “He did a great job; he is one of the best pitchers on our staff, and you have to have a guy like Ty that you have confidence in to come into a tough spot.”
The long ball was kind to LSU Sunday as Crews, Thompson, and Dugas all went deep. Crews hit a two-run shot in the first to spearhead a five-run fifth inning.
The homer was the 41st of Crews’s career which puts him in sole possession of 9th place all-time. If Crews has another 20 homer season (he had 18 in ‘21 and 22 in ‘22) he could climb as high as third-all time in program history when it’s all said and done.
Jordan Thompson also recorded a two-run home run in the fifth inning to push LSU’s lead to 6-1. Dugas homered for the second consecutive game. Dugas was a monster this weekend going 6-8 with two home runs, two RBI and three runs scored.
“Gavin has faced adversity with injuries, but he has persevered and got himself right,” Johnson said. “I think the best is yet to come for him.”
Blake Money came on for Ty Floyd and pitched the final two innings. Aside from getting taken deep by pinch-hitter Ben Campos in the ninth, Money pitched well. The home run was the only hit Money surrendered. He struck out three of the other six batters he faced.
Two things stand out to me after the first weekend of the season: first off, no errors by the Tiger defense! We all saw how much of a sore spot defense was last season, and if that’s cleaned up LSU will win an awful lot of games. Second, three freshman started all weekend long: Paxton Kling in right field, Bear Jones at DH, and, most impressively to me at least, Brady Neal started all three games at catcher.
Up next LSU will play its first midweek game of the 2023 season Tuesday afternoon against Southern. First pitch is scheduled for 2:00 and the game may be streamed on SEC Network+.