Firepower — both on mound and in the batter’s box — quickly became the determining factor as LSU and Air Force faced off to conclude opening weekend.
One team had both in abundance, and the other did not.
Jaden Hill was downright electric in his collegiate debut as the rookie right-hander struck out eight over five innings of one-run ball. LSU batted around in a seven-run first inning and flexed its muscles in a 17-5 win at Alex Box Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
“We have great hitters, don’t we?” Hill smiled.
It was truly a team effort in support of Hill. Every starter in the LSU (3-0) lineup recorded at least one hit and scored a run before the benches were emptied. Seven of the starters drove in at least one run.
“It was nice to have one of those games after the first two were pretty stressful,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
LSU had to dig itself out of three-run deficits against UL-Monroe and Army the past two days, but no such theatrics were necessary in the weekend finale.
Hill, pumping 94 mph fastballs, struck out the side in his first career inning and LSU promptly went to work against Air Force lefty Ethan Nichols.
Two infield singles followed by two walks got the merry-go-round in motion. That set the table for some of LSU’s big right-handed bats to break out after a couple quiet nights at the office.
Zach Watson got the party going with a two-run double off the wall in right. Saul Garza followed with a two-run double to right of his own. Brock Mathis chipped in with an RBI double to — you guessed it — right field. Drew Bianco added a two-run blast to left one inning later.
“(Hitting coach) Sean Ochinko had a great plan against that left-hander,” Mainieri said. “We were just going to focus on hitting the ball the other way, and virtually every right-handed hitter did that the first time through the order.”
The outpouring of run support took any pressure off Hill, but that shouldn’t minimize another strong debut by one of LSU’s highly-touted freshmen. The one-two punch of Hill and Landon Marceaux allowed just two runs on six hits in 10.2 combined innings with 13 strikeouts.
“I was just really happy to see Jaden go out there and pitch like he’d pitched the last five weeks leading up to this,” Mainieri said. “He was in complete command.”
Hill maintained his fastball velocity at 93-94 mph throughout the start and touched 95 mph on a few occasions. He showed an ability to throw his breaking ball for strikes or bury it in the dirt, which overwhelmed the opposition at times.
It’s that breaking ball and the ability to change speeds it affords him that has made the difference for Hill this spring. Half his strikeouts came on that nasty off-speed pitch — now he’s just to figure out what to call it.
“I have no idea,” Hill replied, asked if it’s more of a curveball or a slider. “It breaks and they miss it. I’m not sure yet. I’m still working on it. Off-speed breaking ball, that’s what it is called.”
The lopsided score allowed Mainieri to empty his bench in the middle of the game.
Chris Reid, making his first appearance since rejoining the program, received a standing ovation for a sacrifice fly. Giovanni DiGiacomo, Gavin Dugas and Braden Doughty each picked up their first career hits.
LSU will enjoy a day off Monday before playing two tough midweek games. Freshman Cole Henry will get the start at home against Southeastern on Tuesday night and Eric Walker will start at Northwestern State on Wednesday.