The stage was set for a weird midweek baseball game when neither starting pitcher recorded an out before turning things over to the bullpen.
What followed did not disappoint, with LSU getting offense from some new faces to outlast UNO in a back-and-forth battle of the bullpens.
Hal Hughes squeezed home the go-ahead run during a four-run sixth inning in his first game as LSU shortstop. Hughes, Daniel Cabrera, Antoine Duplantis and Austin Bain drove in two runs apiece as the Tigers defeated a pesky UNO club 14-6 at Alex Box Stadium on Wednesday night.
“That just shows that we can do it and this offense is capable of putting up a lot of runs each game,” Duplantis said. “We’re a much better hitting team than we showed this past weekend, and I think we showed that today.”
Hughes did everything LSU asked of him in his first start in place of the injured Josh Smith. He laid down two productive bunts, played a clean shortstop and, almost a bonus, smoked an RBI double late in the game.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Hal Hughes and the way he played tonight in every aspect,” Mainieri said. “The kid has great poise for a youngster. He played great defense and had productive at- bats.”
Eight LSU relievers gobbled up nine innings of work and allowed just three runs (two earned) on eight hits with eight strikeouts to get LSU (2-2) a stabilizing victory.
The narrative and alarming trend of LSU’s bullpen drastically outpitching the starters will continue on for at least one more day. LSU has also now allowed six-or-more runs in each of the first four games of the season for the first time since 1932.
Cam Sanders lasted all of four batters before getting hooked, continuing a string of nightmarish starting pitching for LSU. His first seven pitches misses the strike zone and was hooked after allowing back-to-back RBI singles to dig LSU a 3-0 hole with no outs in the first inning.
“Obviously I’m concerned about the starting pitcher,” Mainieri said. “He didn’t do what I’d hoped he would do … All the guys that followed him out of the bullpen did a super job. It was a good team win. I’m glad we got it.”
Not to be outdone, UNO starter Zach Thompson was pulled by Blake Dean after issuing back-to-back four-pitch walks to begin the ball game. The Tigers promptly tied the game soon after.
Duplantis smoked a two-run triple into the right field corner and Hunter Feduccia tied the game with an opposite-field single in his first at-bat as a Tiger. He also gunned down a would-be base stealer in his return to the lineup.
Trent Vietmeier, building off his strong debut, allowed just a solo home run in three innings of relief of Sanders. UNO took a 5-4 lead with a run against Devin Fontenot in the fifth as the LSU bats hit a lull following the fast start.
An error opened the door for LSU to re-take the lead in the sixth. Jake Slaughter doubled, his first hit of the season, to get the rally going. Bryce Jordan tied the game with a ground ball to second base and Hughes put the Tigers ahead with his second perfectly-executed bunt of the night.
“That’s the player that we’ve been talking about me being,” Hughes said. “Have good team at-bats, knowing my role at the plate, which is definitely to get bunts down when I need to. I feel like I did a good job of that tonight.”
Cabrera, thrust into the leadoff spot in place of Smith, came through with the first of two RBI singles up the middle for his first career hit. Bain, the designated hitter, then drove in his second run of the night with a booming opposite field double into the right-center field gap.
Bain wasn’t originally in the starting lineup but got inserted into the No. 2 hole when center fielder Zach Watson became a late scratch from the lineup after “tweaking” his oblique during batting practice.
“After BP, Coach brought me into his office and told me I was DHing in the two spot,” Bain said. “I felt good in BP today.”
Matt Beck came on in the seventh innings and worked the first 1-2-3 inning by an LSU pitcher of the night, and in a shutdown inning no less, and LSU proceeded to blow the game open. Beau Jordan and Hughes chipped in with RBI doubles as LSU scored four more times to extend the lead to 12-5.
LSU can now turn its full attention to a weekend series with Texas slated to begin Friday night at the Box. Power right-handers Zack Hess and Nolan Kingham are slated to duel on Friday night.