LSU didn’t need more than two innings from its starting pitcher to take the back half of a home-and-home with Southeastern on Sunday afternoon.
The Tigers just needed Ma’Khail Hilliard ready in the bullpen to pick up the slack from there.
Hilliard fired four brilliant innings of one-hit relief — part of an overall stretch of 20 scoreless innings from LSU pitching — and the Tigers got home runs from Antoine Duplantis and Beau Jordan to defeat Southeastern 4-2 at Alex Box Stadium.
“Great way to finish up the weekend,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I think we’re getting better as a team. Can’t help but be tremendously pleased with our pitching, especially the last three games over the weekend. I though Ma’Khail was the story of the game.”
The win finished off a perfect weekend and strong 4-1 week for LSU (8-4). Pitching was the story of the weekend as LSU allowed just three runs and issued only three walks in three wins against three different clubs. The bullpen handled the heavy lifting Sunday after an encouraging, albeit brief, start from a heralded rookie.
Right-hander AJ Labas gave LSU two scoreless innings in his highly-anticipated debut. He pitched out of a jam in the first inning, stranding two runners in scoring position, and posted a clean second.
His fastball sat 87-88 mph, which is to be expected in his first outing since offseason back surgery. The more impressive aspect of Labas’ debut was his command. He threw 24-of-32 pitches for strikes and began all eight hitters he faced with first-pitch strikes.
“Great feeling. That was the first time I’d been on the mound in a game since the Purple and Gold World Series,” Labas said. “Just a great time to get back out there. I felt 100 percent. My arm felt good. My body felt good. Didn’t have any pain going down my leg anymore.”
Duplantis promptly gave him a lead to work with via a no-doubter of a solo home run in the first. His first of the year carried 414 feet, according to Trakman. Beau Jordan followed with his third homer of the year in the third and came up a triple short of hitting for the cycle on the afternoon.
The Tigers continued tacking on from there. Daniel Cabrera chased home a run with a two-out double in the third. Duplantis drove in his second run of the day with a sacrifice fly in the fifth.
Hilliard made that lead feel insurmountable through the middle innings. Though his curveball wasn’t initially as sharp as it’s been in recent outings, he attacked with his heater and retired the final 11 hitters he faced with four strikeouts.
“My fastball is a swing-and-miss pitch,” Hilliard said. “I feel like I can back that up if I don’t have my curveball on a given day. I didn’t have it at first today, but I kind of found it near the end.”
Things got a bit hairy once he left, though. Kyle Schimpf launched a two-run home run off LSU reliever Trent Vietmeier in the seventh to cut the lead in half. The Lions put the tying runs in scoring position, but lefty Nick Bush induced a fly out to escape with the lead intact.
Bush returned in the eighth inning and retired the heart of the Southeastern order 1-2-3 with two strikeouts looking. Austin Bain came on in the ninth and nailed down the first save by any LSU pitcher this season.
LSU will enjoy a day off before embarking on another five-game week. The Tigers will be back in action against Southern on Tuesday night before hitting the road to face UL-Lafayette on Wednesday.
- Brandt Broussard was out of the lineup after suffering a minor groin pull on Saturday night. He felt better and could have played, Mainieri said, but LSU decided to give him the day off so he has two full days of rest in hopes the groin doesn’t become a nagging injury.
- Cam Sanders will start on Tuesday night against Southern. The starter for Wednesday’s game at UL-Lafayette is TBA.
- Freshman right-hander Nick Storz will throw a simulated game on Monday, Mainieri said.
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