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LSU baseball rallies late to defeat ULM on Opening Day 12-7

In front of the fourth largest paid attendance in LSU baseball history, the Tigers opened their season with a 12-7 win over ULM on opening night.

The moment was set for shortstop Josh Smith. Two on, two outs in the bottom of the eighth in a tie ball game. It was a moment he’d been waiting for and was walked instead. Smith jumped up and down as the ball crossed the outside of the plate, knowing he couldn’t put a swing on it.

“In that situation, I want to be selfish,” Smith said. “I want to be up there when in those situations but I got walked so it’s something you really can’t control.”

So with the bases loaded and two outs, second baseman Brandt Broussard came to the plate for his moment and a hard ground ball on a full count was bobbled by the third baseman brought home a run, making it 8-7 LSU.

Then Antoine Duplantis stepped into the box and the senior, who has come up so big for the Tigers in the past, did just that once more. Duplantis destroyed a fastball, pointed at it as it traveled through the sky and watched it land in the student section, a grand slam that put the game out of reach at 12-7.

One Tiger had no trouble starting the season hot as left fielder Daniel Cabrera went 3-for-4 with five RBI’s. Cabrera accumulated the first five RBI’s of the season while also blasting the first two homeruns of the year, that cut a three run deficit to tie the game at five in the sixth.

If that wasn’t enough, Cabrera tracked down a deep hit at the warning track in the seventh that could’ve given ULM the one run advantage. In the eighth inning, Cabrera’s fielding skills were once again tested, but the sophomore made a diving catch in shallow left and threw out a runner retreating to first base, finishing off an insane double play.

“I don’t think I’ve had a game like that in my life because I felt good at the plate and good on the field,” Cabrera said. “It was just a special opening night, the fans brought the energy for us and that’s why they’re the best fans in the country.”

Duplantis and Cabrera combined to drive in 11 of the 12 runs for the Tigers, with Duplantis finishing 2-for-5 with six RBI and two homeruns. The two homeruns for the senior were just the seventh and eighth of his career in 833 at bats.

“Clutch hits when we needed it,” Smith said. “They came through but that’s how they’ve always been so I’ll look forward to that for the rest of the season.”

Coming into the night, it was known that ace Zack Hess wouldn’t go more than four innings and it certainly wasn’t the picture perfect start to the season he envisioned. The Warhawks put up three runs with just three batters approaching the plate, capped off by a two-run homerun from third baseman Chad Bell.

After the three inning first, Hess was seemingly finding a rhythm retiring seven straight batters. The success was short lived however as two more runs from the Warhawks came across in the third making it 5-2 ULM.

Last year in his first start against Notre Dame, Hess allowed five hits and eight runs, and walked six before he was yanked. Hess was replaced for Trent Vietmeier after allowing runners on first and second with two outs in the fourth. For the night, Hess surrendered four runs on six hits and struck out four.

Communication errors quickly became a problem as the Tigers had two errors on the night, all of which led to extra runs. On both occasions, it was pop flys in the infield that weren’t properly communicated with the second being a blatant drop by the sure-handed Smith.

Opening night also featured the returns of two Tiger players that missed basically all of the 2018 season, Smith and pitcher Eric Walker.

Trailing 5-4 in the fifth, Mainieri went with Walker out of the bullpen and the sophomore drew a large roar from Alex Box when his name was announced. While a bit rusty to start, Walker was able to get out of the fifth inning unscathed, finishing with a strikeout and went three up, three down in the sixth.

Walker went 2.1 innings with no runs allowed and two strikeouts before the freshman Cole Henry relieved him in the seventh.

Mainieri said a tear came to his eye when Walker went on the mound for the first time and felt he stabilized the game in those middle innings.

“The crowd gave him such a nice ovation and we really only expected two innings,” Mainieri said. “I actually thought he pitched better in the second inning than he did the first so I wanted him to get that first out of the seventh before Cole [Henry] went in.”

Smith had a rocky start as well, committing the one drop on defense but was able to get his first hit of the season on a blooper that dropped in shallow center field and opened the seventh with a single, later scoring on the Duplantis first homerun that gave LSU its first lead of the game.

The Tigers are back in action tomorrow at 2 p.m. when they take an Army, who beat Air Force 17-2 in the first game on Friday.