LSU played long ball to ensure it began a stretch of 10 games in 13 days off on the right foot and avoided its first loss against a SWAC school since 2005.
That 33-game winning streak looked in jeopardy right up until Bryce Jordan put LSU ahead with a three-run homer to left-center field in the sixth inning.
Hal Hughes and Austin Bain then connected on the first homers of their respective collegiate careers for insurance as LSU batted around in a six-run seventh inning to blow out Grambling, 10-3, at Alex Box Stadium on Wednesday night.
“We just stuck with the plan,” Jordan said. “We knew eventually it was going to roll around and the hits were going to start coming.”
LSU began the sixth inning with just a one-run lead before the bats exploded. Hughes led off the frame with a laser into the left-field bleachers and Bain followed two batters later with a bomb off the TV tower in center field that TrakMan measured at 429 feet.
The only other Tiger in recent memory to hit a ball off that tower to the left of dead-center field was Greg Deichmann, who mashed one there during the 2016 Regional against Rice. Bain relayed that he had a text message from the former LSU slugger when he checked his phone after the final out.
It read as follows: Bro, chill.
“I’m having fun,” Bain added, smiling from ear to ear. “It’s completely changed the game of baseball for me back to where I’m like a little kid again. I’m just having fun.”
A Grambling error allowed the inning to continue and LSU to blow the game open. Nick Webre brought home a run with a two-out double to left and the Jake Slaughter showed signs of busting out of his slump with a two-run single to cap the inning.
Ma’Khail Hilliard earned the win in relief thanks to a brilliant display of clutch pitching over four scoreless innings. The freshman stranded a runner at third base in the fifth inning and struck out the side on nine pitches in the sixth.
Grambling put another runner at third base with one out in the seventh, but LSU’s 4-3 lead survived as Grambling suicide squeeze attempt went array and became an inning-ending 2-3 double play. His fourth punchout stranded a man at third base in the eighth inning.
His efforts saved most of the LSU bullpen as the Tigers (5-3) prepare to Johnny Wholestaff a Wednesday road trip to Southeastern. At one point it looked like LSU was going to need to ask far more of its bullpen than that.
“Every game is very important to go in and shove and pitch to hitters,” Hilliard said. “I thought if I got in there and shoved I could maybe help my team out tomorrow for Southeastern and save a couple arms. That’s what I did.”
Right-hander Cam Sanders’ second start went considerably better than his brief debut — a low bar, for sure — but the results were still a bit of a mixed bag.
On the bright side, he showed nasty stuff that makes him such an intriguing arm with eight strikeouts in four innings. Six of those strikeouts came on a sharp curveball that buckled hitters when he got ahead in the count.
On the not-so-bright side, Sanders didn’t get ahead in the count enough. He walked in a run in the first inning and left having allowed three runs and issued three walks, resulting in an elevated pitch count (83) and an earlier hook than LSU coach Paul Mainieri would’ve liked.
“There’s a role that he can help us in by being able to do that,” Mainieri said, “but that’s too many base runners for a starting pitcher. I thought there was some good stuff, but obviously it wasn’t a real crisp performance. That’s why he only lasted four innings for us.”
LSU meanwhile could manage little offense against soft-tossing lefty Christian Marquez. Beau Jordan brought home a run with a single up the middle in the fourth, but that was all LSU mustered against Marquez over five innings of four-hit ball.
“If you want to stymie the LSU Tigers, just throw a soft-tossing left hander who throws strikes,” Mainieri said. “I’ve seen enough of those guys in the early part of the season. Hopefully we don’t see any more of those guys the rest of the year. We hit so much better against guys that throw harder.”
But he left and the fireworks began.
LSU will look to continue its power surge in a Baton Rouge Regional rematch at Southeastern tomorrow night before hosting three teams for a round robin weekend at the Box. Nick Bush will get the ball to begin the wholestaff effort for LSU in Hammond.
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