BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU baseball team has successfully put its rough opening weekend behind it.
Behind 6 solid innings from sophomore right-hander Zack Hess and an explosive showing from an offense going against a previously dominant starting pitcher, No. 22 LSU (3-2) blew out No. 14 Texas (3-2) 13-4 on Friday night. The win was a stark reversal from LSU’s first four games of the season, where the Tigers allowed 6+ runs in every game and struggled to find any consistency from its starting pitching.
Hess reversed that trend in a notable way Friday, striking out a career-high 10 batters and allowing 2 earned runs on 99 pitches in 6 innings of work. He allowed seven baserunners on 5 hits and 2 walks, a stark contrast to the 5 hits and 6 walks he surrendered in 2.1 innings in his first start of 2018. The sophomore retired the last eight batters he faced, striking out three of them swinging.
“I’d forgotten how fun it was to coach at LSU when you have starting pitching performances like that,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. “Zack just set the tone for us in the first inning, striking out the side and keeping them scoreless.”
Perhaps most importantly, Hess pitched virtually the entire game with a lead. LSU’s offense jumped on Texas starter Nolan Kingham, who threw 8 scoreless innings in his season debut versus UL-Lafayette, for 5 runs in the first inning on 4 hits and 2 errors. The offense didn’t let off the throttle, tagging Kingham for 8 hits and 8 runs, 4 earned, in 3 innings.
Player of the game: 2B Brandt Broussard
Five games into the season, no LSU player has been more efficient and more effective than second baseman Brandt Broussard. Broussard went 4-for-5 with a double, 4 RBI and 2 runs scored on Friday, catalyzing the LSU offense from out of the No. 8 spot in the lineup.
A transfer from Delgado Community College, Broussard is hitting .533 with 8 RBI in his first five games at LSU, both of which lead the Tigers. He also leads LSU with 2 stolen bases and added his first extra-base hit on Friday on a 2 RBI double in the first inning.
“I didn’t [see this coming], but I’ve got to attribute that to the Jordans that are doing a great job of getting on,” Broussard said. “Slaughter’s doing a great job of getting on. They’re allowing me to see some fastballs over the heart of the plate that I can put a good swing on.”
How the Hess was won
It’s hard to imagine two starts more different than Hess’ first two of the season. Whereas in his first start Hess couldn’t find the strike zone, walking 6 batters, he was in control for the entirety of his start Friday, firing his fastball 91-93 mph throughout the whole outing and snapping his slurve on the corner of the plate for a consistent putout pitch.
“I think the big thing for me was getting that first [inning] out of the way,” Hess said. “Have a nice clean inning and establish the strike zone early on. I think doing that really helped me for the rest of the night.”
The only time he encountered any trouble came in the second inning, when an RBI triple followed by a sacrifice fly stuck him with 2 earned runs. But after that point, Hess looked untouchable. Between the third and sixth innings, Hess allowed 2 hits and struck out 6 batters, giving up 1 walk along the way. In his final two frames, Hess needed just 20 pitches to set down six hitters in a row, keeping his pitch count below 100 for the evening.
“Those last few innings, [Mainieri] kind of told me ‘You don’t have too much left,’ so I went ‘OK, I’m just going to go out and empty the tank at this point,'” Hess said. “And that’s what I did. I was just trying to go out there and be as efficient as possible so I could stay in the game longer.”
Fun with stats
First baseman Bryce Jordan’s day will go down in the stat sheet as 0-for-1 with a strikeout. But it was so much more than that.
Jordan walked in each of his first four at-bats, coming around the score three times. His four walks tied the LSU single-game record, matching a mark last achieved by Greg Deichmann a season ago versus Mississippi State.
While most of the focus Friday will go to Broussard and shortstop Hal Hughes at the bottom of the order, who combined to hit 6-for-9 with 6 RBI, the top of the order did a great job of bringing those guys around.
Hitting from the leadoff spot, freshman outfielder Daniel Cabrera went 2-for-5 with 3 RBI, including a 2 RBI double in the third inning. And no longer just a relief pitcher, designated hitter Austin Bain raked from the No. 2 hole, batting 2-for-6 with two doubles. Bain now has three doubles on the season, matching Beau Jordan for the team lead.
“I’m not surprised,” Mainieri said about Bain. “I watch the kid in practice every day. You watch him take BP, he’s going to juice some balls. He might knock some seats out there in the left field bleachers loose. He’s an athlete, that kid… We didn’t really need him to hit the last three years; we had plenty of guys. But I’ll tell you, I think he’s taking advantage of an opportunity.”
LSU baseball box score
What’s next for LSU baseball?
LSU baseball and Texas match up for Game 2 of this three-game series on Saturday. The game is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. CT and will be available for stream online through WatchESPN.