BATON ROUGE, La. — See what happens when LSU baseball gives Ma’Khail Hilliard some run support?
For the second game in a row, LSU’s offense crushed Tennessee’s starting pitcher early, putting up 6 runs in the first two innings en route to a 14-5 victory over the Vols. With the win, LSU improved to 23-13 on the season and 8-6 in SEC play, while Tennessee dropped to 21-16, 5-9 SEC.
Hilliard, who allowed 3 earned runs on 5 hits with 6 strikeouts in 6 innings pitched, moved into the No. 2 spot in LSU’s weekend rotation for the first time Saturday, upgrading from his usual No. 3 role. Prior to Saturday, LSU had scored 5 runs in Hilliard’s previous three starts, losing two of the three games. The Tigers’ offense matched that total in the first inning Saturday, piling 5 runs on Tennessee starter Garrett Stallings on 4 hits, 2 walks and an error.
“I love it,” Hilliard said. “You don’t really get games like that. Our team just puts it on them in the first inning. I felt very confident in the win after that. It was relaxing being on the mound knowing I had a lot of insurance runs behind me.”
Building off his theatrics from Friday night, sophomore third baseman Jake Slaughter provided the big swing in the first inning, tripling down the right-field line to drive in two runs. Slaughter followed the triple with a 2-run home run in the seventh inning, giving him a career-high 4 RBI on the day. In two games this series, Slaughter has 4 hits, 6 RBI and 3 home runs.
“Hey, I don’t know what’s gotten into Jake Slaughter, but whatever it is let’s keep doing it, OK,” Mainieri said. “I didn’t think there was any chance somebody would hit a home run to left field today. That ball he hit, I didn’t know a human being can hit a ball that hard. It reminded me of somebody like Giancarlo Stanton as hard as that ball was hit piercing through the wind.”
In addition to Slaughter’s triple, LSU scored runs in the first inning off RBI singles from Antoine Duplantis and Daniel Cabrera as well as an RBI groundout from Austin Bain. Bain added another RBI with a single in the second inning, his fifth hit and fifth RBI of the series.
Up and down
Senior first baseman Nick Coomes had a career-day offensively Saturday, smacking a career-high 3 hits with a double and 3 runs scored. He led off the fifth inning with a double into right field, catalyzing a 3-run inning that pushed the Tigers’ lead back to 6 runs after Hilliard surrendered 3 runs of his own in the top half of the inning.
Defensively, however, Coomes went through a bit of an adventure in the top of the seventh. The senior committed two errors in the frame, one fielding and one throwing, loading the bases for relief pitcher Caleb Gilbert with one out. Gilbert worked his way out of the jam, striking out one batter and inducing a groundout to second base to end the inning, but LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri was visibly frustrated with Coomes after his throwing error.
Speaking of Gilbert…
Gilbert threw 3 innings of relief on Saturday, allowing 2 runs in his second appearance out of the bullpen this season. As of last weekend, Gilbert was LSU’s No. 2 weekend starter, but Mainieri opted to return Gilbert to the bullpen this week in an attempt to replicate the success Gilbert achieved as a sophomore in 2017 when he posted a 2.16 ERA.
With Gilbert going 3 innings on Saturday, Mainieri confirmed that freshman Devin Fontenot will make his first career start on Sunday. Mainieri said he’s unsure of how long Fontenot will be able to throw, but the Tigers have most of its bullpen available Sunday including Nick Bush, Matthew Beck and Austin Bain who haven’t thrown this weekend.
Ball go far
The game was already out of hand when freshman Nick Webre came off the bench to pinch hit in the eighth inning. But in one swing, Webre woke the remaining fans at Alex Box stadium.
That ball was CRUSHED! @SpiderWebre absolutely demolished that ball over the Diamond Deck in right field for the first home run of his career!
LSU 14, Tennessee 5 pic.twitter.com/UmPcc2snLk
— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) April 15, 2018
Webre launched his first career home run to the top of the right-field bleachers, missing The Intimidator by two rows. The ball traveled an estimated 408 feet.
What’s next for LSU baseball?
LSU baseball returns to action on Sunday in search of its first SEC weekend sweep of 2018. Action is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. CT and will be televised on the SEC Network. Online users can stream through WatchESPN.