Tigers win SEC opener 2-1 with brilliant pitching, clutch late hitting
The LSU bats were non-existent for much of the game but walks with a few clutch hits sprinkled in helped the Tigers take game one from Kentucky 2-1.
In the ninth inning, with the game tied at 1-1, the Tigers brought catcher Brock Mathis, third baseman Hal Hughes and shortstop Josh Smith to the plate. Mathis and Hughes had gone 0-for-6 with four strikeouts between the two and a groundout from Mathis made it 0-for-7.
Hughes drew a walk from Kentucky closer Jimmy Ramsey bringing Smith up for the kind of moment he loves. Instead Smith hit a grounder up the middle that left him safe and Hughes out at second.
Centerfielder Zach Watson followed up with a walk that put LSU runners on first and second with two outs for Antoine Duplantis. Duplantis had gone 0-for-4 before his last at bat and an infield single loaded the bases for third baseman Chris Reid.
Reid made solid contact but a diving save from Kentucky left fielder Breydon Daniel sent the game to extra innings, robbing Reid of his walkoff opportunity.
After a third and fourth scoreless inning of relief pitching from Devin Fontenot, the Tigers were back at the plate in the bottom of the 12th with a chance to seal the deal. Fontenot was phoenminal in five innings of work with five strikeouts and two hits.
“I think I gained a lot of confidence after my last game and I just went out and tried to take it one strike at a time and help the team the best way I could,” Fontenot said.
The sophomore pitcher was challenged by coach Paul Mainieiri after a rough start to the season but said that challenge has really helped him the last few outings.
“I can’t really hardly remember anything before that point,” Fontenot said. “I’m just focused on game at a time so I’m not too worried about the past, just moving forward.”
In the 12th, a first pitch single from Watson was followed up by a double from Reid that left runners on second and third with one out. An intentional walk to Cabrera left the bases loaded and Mainieri brought freshman Giovanni DiGiacomo in to pinch hit.
Zack Hess’ woes on the mound continued but only for one inning as the ace was able to settle down after a 22 pitch first inning that resulted in one run for the Wildcats.
After an opening walk on five pitches, Kentucky his back-to-back singles that brought in a run with no outs and also brought pitching coach Alan Dunn to the mound for a chat. Hess was able to get out of the first with just the one run coming across but needed 22 pitches to do it.
Hess followed that up with a six pitch second inning and scoreless third and fourth innings with his pitch count at 63, yet the LSU bats couldn’t help him out.
Offensively, LSU was able to get the leadoff man on base in the first two innings but was unable to get the runner home in both innings as the Tigers struggled to find a rhythm against Kentucky ace Zack Thompson.
Thompson struck out six batters in the first three innings and held the top of the order in check, with a 1-for-7 showing in the opening innings. When the Tigers were getting on base, they were struggling to convert, leaving 12 runners on base for the game.
Coming into the weekend, stopping the Kentucky speed on the bases was a point of emphasis for the team as a whole. The Wildcats had successfully stolen 46 bases in 55 attempts and added to that number with a successful steal in the first.
Kentucky right fielder Ryan Shinn, who was hit by a pitch in the third inning, tried stealing second in a one out inning, but LSU called a pitchout and was able to throw Shinn out by a clear mile, just the second pickoff of the season.
As the game wore on, Hess continued to be brilliant and the LSU bats continued to be ineffective. Hess became the first pitcher all season to last six innings into a game, for reference 18 games, while the LSU bats stalemated at three hits for most of the afternoon.
Hess’ afternoon would end after the seventh inning, replaced by Fontenot and allowed one run with six strikeouts on 118 pitches.
A Zach Watson singled opened the eighth inning with a bang and a wild pitch would move him to second on a wild pitch. Reid and Cabrera both drew walks bringing freshman Drew Bianco to the plate, who had already struck out twice in the game. LSU would get its only run in regulation with another walk to Bianco that brought Watson home.