When LSU starting pitcher Jaden Hill is on his game, the middle of the Tigers’ batting order delivers four homers and their first baseman puts on a fielding clinic, it doesn’t get better for college baseball’s 11th ranked team.
Hill allowed just two base runners, one hit and no runs in six innings, Cade Doughty, Cade Beloso, Zach Arnold and Gavin Dugas belted home runs and Tre’ Morgan’s dazzling array of fielding plays highlighted the Tigers’ 6-2 Friday night victory over Youngstown State in Alex Box Stadium.
“Jaden Hill looked extremely sharp, dominant,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We had a lot of good at-bats. Tre’ Morgan put on a clinic at first base with his footwork around the bag.”
Beloso’s two-run homer in the first inning got the party started for the Tigers (4-1), which added solo shots from Doughty in third, Dugas in the fourth and Arnold in the eighth.
The Penguins (1-5), who lost at Nicholls State 7-6 earlier Friday, scored all of their runs off LSU relievers Brandon Kaminer and Blake Money.
Youngstown State had three of its six hits in the ninth inning off Money when it scored a run and had runners on second and third base with one out when LSU closer Devin Fontenot entered the game.
He threw two pitches, induced two infield fly outs and it was game over.
All in all, it was a satisfying night for the Tigers in several areas, especially Hill, who is transitioning from a reliever to the starting ace of the LSU staff.
It was the longest outing of the junior righthander’s career, 77 pitches which was just two over the pitch count limit that Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn had given him for his second start of the season.
“I’ve been following A.D.’s throwing program to a `T’ and this is what we expected,” said Hill (2-0), who only allowed a one-out fifth inning single to Youngstown right fielder Turner Grau. “I know everything isn’t going to come all at once. But if we stay with the process and keep going, hopefully I can go deeper in games and the pitch count can keep going up.”
The Tigers staked a 5-0 lead for Hill before he departed. All the runs came off Colin Clark (0-2), Youngstown State’s feast-or-famine starter. The crafty lefty struck out 10 and didn’t give up a walk. But five of the seven hits he allowed were for extra bases, including three home runs and two doubles.
One each of those home runs and doubles belonged to LSU left fielder Gavin Dugas, who went 3 for 4 in the Tigers’ 11-hit attack to stretch a three-game streak in which he’s hit .583 with 7 RBI and two homers.
He’s part of an LSU offense that produced just 11 runs and 14 hits including three for extra bases in a 1-1 season opening split against Air Force and now has exploded for 33 runs and 36 including 11 for extra bases in wins over Louisiana Tech, UL-Lafayette and Youngstown State.
LSU already has 10 home runs. Last year when the coronavirus pandemic ended the season, the Tigers had 14 homers in 17 games.
“A lot of guys were getting after it, hitting some balls pretty far,” Dugas said of the Tigers’ four-dinger night. “It was pretty exciting to be a part of.”
But even more sensational was the glovework by Morgan, the freshman from Brother Martin. He had one of the greatest fielding innings in recent LSU history in helping Hill get through his last three outs on the mound in the Youngstown State sixth.
On out No. 1, Morgan picked Tigers’ third baseman Jordan Thompson’s short hop throw out of the dirt to nip YSU catcher Nick Caruso by a step.
“When we were taking infield before the game, I saw the grass was pretty wet,” Morgan said. “I thought the infielders might have a rough day throwing the ball across the diamond, I told them as long as they catch it just throw it somewhere near me and I’ll focus extra to dig it out.”
On out 2, Morgan chased down a curving foul ball sliced by Penguins’ center fielder Lucas Nasonti, slammed on the brakes and caught the ball falling backwards.
“We had a shift on for the hitter, so I was playing in the 3-4 (first base/second base) hole a little bit,” Morgan said. “I saw the ball go up and I thought the whole time I was going to catch the ball over my shoulder. I kept tracking it and it got to the point it was right over my head and I couldn’t catch it over my shoulder. So I just put my glove up and caught it.”
On out 3, Hill fielded a nubber from second baseman Jeff Wehler and fired a rising fastball to Morgan that Hill said, “I thought I’d thrown it in the stands.”
Morgan stepped to the left side of the base, caught the ball and ran straight to the dugout before the crowd even had time to react.
“I saw the runner coming up the line and I saw the ball cutting towards the line,” Morgan said. “I knew the ball was going to beat the runner, so I had time to cross the line, catch it and get out of his way.
“When I came off the field, I was smiling because I knew I had done something pretty special.”
The Tigers and Penguins will meet again at 2 p.m. Saturday before LSU faces Nicholls (2-2) at 6:30 p.m.