BATON ROUGE, La. — Even as its starting pitching problem flared up worse than ever, the LSU baseball team dominated its way to a win Wednesday night.
Junior college transfer right-hander Cam Sanders’ LSU debut went about as bad as it could, allowing 3 runs on 2 hits, a walk and a hit batter without recording an out before he was replaced. But LSU’s offense clawed back, clustering runs in the bottom of the first and sixth innings on its way to a 14-6 victory over UNO. The win improved LSU to 2-2 on the year.
“It’s a good one in the win column for us,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. “I was just really proud of the guys tonight. I felt they really played terrific baseball. They started to relax at the plate. In all honest, I thought that UNO’s pitching was every bit as good as Notre Dame’s pitching and yet we didn’t hit Notre Dame’s pitching and tonight I thought we swung the bats with great aggressiveness.”
Players of the game: Josh Smith’s replacements
Making the first start of his college career for the injured Josh Smith, shortstop Hal Hughes started at shortstop and hit ninth, having himself a ballgame along the way. Hughes went 2-for-4 with a double, 2 RBI, a run scored and a sacrifice while playing a clean game defensively.
“It was pretty fun,” Hughes said of his first start. “It was a good experience to get out there. We had a great crowd tonight which was pretty awesome for a Wednesday night. I was just excited to get a win.”
Not to be outdone, freshman left fielder Daniel Cabrera moved up to the leadoff spot in the order in Smith’s stead. After going 0-for-9 in his first weekend as a college ballplayer, Cabrera went 2-for-4 on Wednesday with 2 RBI, a walk and 2 runs scored.
“[Mainieri] just said to have fun and stay to your approach, don’t try to be too fine,” Cabrera said. “Have fun and let it loose. It felt good. It kind of got me in my little groove.”
How the offense went off
Newcomers and veterans alike led the LSU offense on Wednesday. Junior outfielder Antoine Duplantis started off LSU’s scoring with a 2-run triple in the first inning, and scored one batter later on a single from catcher Hunter Feduccia. The Tigers added another run in the second inning off a fielder’s choice from senior Austin Bain, starting his first game as a designated hitter after spending the first three years of his LSU career as a pitcher.
After the second inning, LSU’s bats went quiet. Between the third and fifth innings, LSU didn’t record a hit, reaching base just one time on a UNO fielding error. But in the sixth inning, the offense awoke. Thanks to an RBI groundout from first baseman Bryce Jordan, a sacrifice groundout from shortstop Hal Hughes, a single from left fielder Daniel Cabrera and a Bain double, LSU posted 4 runs in the frame, retaking a lead over the Privateers.
“I wanted to show confidence in him more than anything,” Mainieri said of putting Cabrera at the top of the order. “Two years ago when Alex Bregman came up with the Astros, he started out 0-for-18. The manager A.J. Hinch took him and started him in the 2-hole. Sometimes you show a little confidence in a player when they’re struggling and they reward you for that.”
LSU added a few more runs in the seventh, beginning with an RBI double by right fielder Beau Jordan. The hit was Jordan’s third double and fifth extra-base hit of 2018. Jordan later came around to score on a sacrifice fly from Brandt Broussard, and the Tigers added a third run on a Hughes RBI double. Hughes scored on another RBI single from Cabrera, extending the LSU lead to 12-5.
Replacement third baseman Chris Reid drove in a 13th run in the eighth inning and freshman Nick Webre made it 14 runs with a sacrifice one batter later.
As for the pitching…
With Sanders failing to record an out, LSU relied on its bullpen for 9 full innings of work. Freshman right-hander Trent Vietmeier handled the largest share, relieving Sanders with 3 innings of 1-run baseball. After Vietemeir came Devin Fontenot, another freshman right-hander, who allowed 1 run in 2 innings.
Ma’Khail Hilliard and Matthew Beck followed Fontenot with one scoreless inning apiece. Nick Bush followed that pair, allowing 1 run in the eighth inning before giving way to Taylor Petersen who finished the frame.
Left-hander Brandon Nowak started the ninth and made two outs before giving way to Bain, who pulled double duty on his way to ending the game.
Preseason All-America centerfielder Zach Watson was a late scratch from the lineup Wednesday due to a minor injury sustained in pregame warmups. After the game, Mainieri referred to the injury as a “strained oblique.” Watson should be considered day-to-day until more is known on Thursday.
LSU box score
What’s next for LSU baseball?
The LSU baseball team returns to action on Friday for the first game of a home series versus Texas. Action is scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m. CT and will be available for stream online through WatchESPN.