Sometimes, in the midst of a prolonged offensive funk, it falls on the coach to do something unconventional in hopes of sparking his lineup.
Hitting Beau Jordan leadoff certainly applied, and maybe that’s why Paul Mainieri gets paid the big bucks.
Jordan didn’t know he was leading off until the pre-game stretch, and Mainieri gave him one simple instruction when he informed him: hit the first pitch of the game over the fence. Jordan obliged, leading off with a solo home run to left that got LSU off and rolling toward an eventual 9-3 win over Tennessee.
“It was a nice spark,” Mainieri smiled. “I said ‘I’d really like to see you hit the first pitch of the game for a home run.’ Then he did it and I turned to all the other guys and said ‘It’s finally nice to get some players that do as they’re told.’ That’s a true story. Beau got into that one and it loosened the whole team up.”
“He did say that,” Jordan affirmed. “It was a pretty cool moment. He does some random things that’re crazy. He’s been around the game so long that it’s like second nature to him.”
Apparently that blast set forth quite the trend.
Jake Slaughter led off the second inning with a homer to dead center. Hunter Feduccia and Slaughter then began the third with back-to-back jacks, each one seemingly harder hit than the last.
LSU pounded out 15 hits and scored eight runs before Tennessee managed its first hit against Zack Hess, who cruised through seven innings of one-run ball, en route to taking the series opener in blowout fashion at Alex Box Stadium on Friday night.
Hess began the game razor sharp, painting corners and striking out the first two batters he faced on nasty pitches, and he simply overpowered the light-hitting Volunteers for much of the night. Tennessee scratched a run across in the fourth inning, but that only seemed to make Hess made. He promptly struck out five in a row after losing the shutout.
The LSU ace struck out eight on the night and allowed only three hits to earn his third victory in as many starts. He’s allowed just two earned runs and struck out 23 in 21.1 innings over that span.
“There was a couple moments throughout the game where I was feeling a little bit for a few things,” Hess said. “But overall I had pretty good feel for everything. It was just kind of taking that mindset against Texas A&M last week and carrying it over. Attacking the strike zone a little bit more and not trying to strike everybody out.”
The power surge marks the first time LSU hit four home runs in a game since February of 2016. LSU hadn’t accomplished the feat against a Southeastern Conference foe since teeing off on Ole Miss back in 2013.
LSU (22-13, 7-6 SEC) has never led off the first three innings of a game with home runs dating back to 1997, according to LSU stats guru Todd Politz. Tennessee (21-15, 5-8 SEC) was the team that found itself on the wrong end of a one-sided slugfest on a humid, hitter friendly night.
Slaughter, who entered the game with three home runs, became the first Tiger to leave the yard twice in a game this season. They blasts measured 428 and 413 feet to center field, respectively. The last to accomplish the feat was Mike Papierski against Oregon State in the College World Series.
“I was so happy for Jake Slaughter,” Mainieri said. “Those two balls that he hit, you don’t see too many of them hit in this ballpark in that spot. He hit two of them that were hit about as hard as could possibly be hit.”
It wasn’t all leadoff long balls, either.
Austin Bain came through with sharp RBI singles in each of the first two innings and singled home another run in the eighth to post career highs in hits (4) and RBI (3). Antoine Duplantis plated a run in the second with a groundout to second to go along with a three-hit night of his own.
“It was a hitter’s night,” Mainieri said in summary. “We just kept having great at-bats after great at-bats.
The Tigers didn’t didn’t much offensively from the third inning on, but it mattered little. Todd Peterson and Cam Sanders were assigned the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, as Hess and the large lead allowed Mainieri to save most of his bullpen for the rest of the weekend.
Sanders served up a two-run homer to Volunteer outfielder Evan Russell, and a comedy of errors kept the inning a live for Tennessee to load the bases, but Clay Moffitt eventually get the final out.
LSU will go for a series victory on Saturday with Ma’Khail Hilliard on the mound. First pitch has been moved back to 8 p.m. from 6:30 due to anticipated inclement weather for much of the day.