BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU baseball team didn’t just beat Tennessee on Friday night. The Tigers ambushed the Vols.
Behind leadoff home runs in each of the first three innings, LSU rode a power surge and another dominant performance from sophomore right-hander Zack Hess to a 9-3 victory over the Volunteers. With the win, LSU improved to 22-13 on the season and 7-6 in SEC play while Tennessee dropped to 21-15, 5-8 in SEC play.
B1: Goodbye baseball!!! @beaujordan24 launches the first pitch he sees to get the Tigers on the board early!
— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) April 14, 2018
Batting in an unfamiliar position as LSU’s leadoff hitter, left fielder Beau Jordan turned on the first pitch an LSU batter saw on Friday for a solo home run, his team-leading sixth of 2018. Which, according to LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri, was exactly the plan.
“I told him when we were stretching today that he was leading off,” Mainieri said. “And I said ‘I’d really like to see you hit the first pitch of the game for a home run.’ Then he did it. So I turned to all the other guys and said it’s finally nice to get some players that do as they’re told, ya know?”
The Tigers tacked on two more in the first via an RBI single from second baseman Austin Bain and a double play grounded into by designated hitter Daniel Cabrera. This set up sophomore third baseman Jake Slaughter to lead off the second inning and, like Jordan before him, Slaughter planted the first pitch of the inning into the centerfield camera well for a home run.
Furthering the deja vu, LSU added two more runs in the second inning as well, with right fielder Antoine Duplantis and Bain driving in a run apiece to extend LSU baseball’s lead to 6-0.
Catcher Hunter Feduccia capped off the early-game theatrics, depositing a 2-0 pitch into the right-field bleachers for the Tigers’ third consecutive leadoff home run. Not to be forgotten, Slaughter followed Feduccia with his second home run of the night, a 107.4 mph laser over the centerfield wall, to give LSU an 8-0 lead and chase Tennessee starting pitcher Garrett Crochet from the game. In all, LSU stung Crochet with 8 runs on 10 hits and 4 home runs.
“We just kept having great at-bats after great at-bats,” Mainieri said. “I was so happy for Jake Slaughter. Those balls that he hit, you don’t see to many of them hit out at this ballpark at that spot. He hit two out there and they were hit about as hard as a ball can possibly be hit. The lineup worked out well for us tonight and hopefully we’ll figure it out for tomorrow.”
Friday was the first time LSU hit four home runs against an SEC opponent in nearly five years. The Tigers last achieved the feat on May 6, 2012 against Ole Miss. According to LSU statistician Todd Politz, LSU hadn’t led off three consecutive innings with a home run since the 2008 postseason versus UC Irvine and North Carolina.
#LSU hasn't had leadoff HR's in 1st-2nd-3rd dating to 1997 (will require further research). However, the Tigers had leadoff HRs in 3-straight innings in 2008: 8th inning v. UC Irvine (NCAASR) then 1st/2nd v. North Carolina (CWS).
— Todd Politz (@tpolitz) April 14, 2018
For Slaughter, breaking out Friday night was huge. The sophomore came into Friday night batting .203 and slugging .291 with 2 home runs in 2018. With his two home runs against Tennessee, Slaughter surpassed his freshman year total with 4 on the season and became the first LSU baseball player to homer twice in a game since Michael Papierski in the College World Series against Oregon State a season ago.
Pitching Change: Chase Wallace replaces Garrett Crochet on the mound.
While Wallace warms up, check out Jake Slaughter's second dinger of the night!
— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) April 14, 2018
Slaughter wasn’t the only Tigers hitter to have a productive evening. Bain set new career-highs with 4 hits and 3 RBI, while Duplantis added 3 hits, one of which being his team-leading fourth triple of 2018.
“I was just seeing ball, hitting ball,” Bain said. “I wasn’t thinking. I was just kind of looking for fastball.”
Bain led off the fourth inning for the Tigers with a single up the middle, ending the team’s streak of leadoff home runs. After the game, Bain admitted he wanted to continue the streak, saying he turned to Cabrera before his at-bat and said “You think I can do it?” Unfortunately, Bain had to settle for his third hit in four innings.
As for Zack Hess…
Hess received as much run support as he’ll ever get on Friday, but it’s not as if he needed much of it. Hess allowed 3 hits in 7 innings, striking out 8 batters with just 1 walk en route to his sixth win of the season. The outing lowered Hess’ season ERA to 3.71, marking the first time this year that Hess has ended a game with an ERA below 4.00.
The hard-throwing right-hander excelled in the middle innings, retiring eight Volunteers in a row between the end of the fourth inning and beginning of the seventh inning. Five of those eight outs came via strikeouts, all of which consecutively and four of which of the swinging variety. With his eight strikeouts, Hess brought his strikeouts per nine innings mark to 11.48.
“There were a couple of moments throughout the game where I was kind of feeling a little bit for some things,” Hess said. “But I think overall I just had pretty good feel for everything. I was just taking that mindset from last week against Texas A&M and carrying it into this game, trying to attack a little bit more and not trying to strike everybody out. I think it paid off.”
In three home starts against SEC opponents this season, Hess has pitched 19.2 innings, allowing 4 earned runs (1.83 ERA) and striking out 26 batters.
What’s next for LSU baseball?
LSU and Tennessee return to action on Saturday for Game 2 of this three-game series. The scheduled start time has been moved back to 8 p.m. CT in anticipation of heavy rainfall throughout the day. The game will be available to stream online via WatchESPN.