An early bolt of lightning jolted LSU out of its offensive mini funk.
Zach Watson led off the game with an opposite-field home run to provide the spark as LSU scored five times in the first three innings. Caleb Gilbert gutted his way through five shutout innings and LSU evened up its series against Hawaii with a 5-1 win at Alex Box Stadium on Saturday night.
Gilbert didn’t seem like himself on the mound, thought he managed to keep a potent lineup off the scoreboard. His fastball velocity dropped from 90-92 mph in the first inning to 86-88 mph after a comebacker hit him on the right side of his right foot in the second inning.
“We don’t suspect any kind of fracture or anything, but it was pretty sore,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “It was obviously affecting him. He wasn’t throwing as hard after that. So he courageously gave us five innings and then it was time to get him out of there. I don’t think it’ll have any kind of long-lasting effect.”
The right-hander revealed after the game that trainer Cory Couture re-taped the foot between innings and applied heat to the bruise before each time he took the mound. He estimated a lump the size of egg on his push-off foot, which accounted for the dip in velocity.
He still managed to scatter four hits and three walks with help from two nifty double plays turned behind him. One of those came courtesy of Watson, who gobbled up a sinking line drive in center and doubled a runner off second base.
“It’s pretty dang sore,” Gilbert said. “But with last night’s loss, I just knew we really needed the win today and I was going to get as deep as I could to save the pen for tomorrow … I had no push off, so I was all arm. You just pitch with what you got and let the defense make plays behind you.”
The solo shot, Watson’s first of the season, set the tone for the night as LSU tagged Hawaii left-hander Dominic DeMiero early and often. It’s the kind of thing Mainieri hoped for when he moved him to the leadoff spot for this weekend.
“I thought he might ambush a fastball and lead off a game with a home run when I tried him there during fall practice, but he never did it,” Mainieri said. “Finally he did it today, and that’s what I envisioned; that he could give us a quick 1-0 lead with one swing.”
Shortstop Hal Hughes doubled the lead with a two-out RBI triple down the right-field line in the second inning. Austin Bain singled home a run in the third and Hunter Feduccia followed with a two-run homer to right, his second of the season.
Gilbert finished five innings, enough to qualify for the win, before turning things over to Matt Beck. Hawaii loaded the bases against Beck in the seventh, but the right-hander got a grounder to first base to escape trouble. Bain, making his first career start in the field, stayed with a tough hop to make the play.
“It was a new experience, and it was a lot of fun,” Bain smiled. “I felt a lot more comfortable than I thought I would. I was ready for it because the guy was out in front. He pounded it into the ground and gave me a nice Sunday hop.”
Hawaii broke through against Todd Peterson in the eighth inning. Kekai Rios ended the shutout with a two-out RBI double that chased Peterson from the game. Taylor Petersen came on and got out of the inning. The lefty returned in the ninth inning to close out the victory.
The rubber match is set for 2 p.m. Sunday, weather permitting. LSU will start freshman right-hander Ma’Khail Hilliard (3-0, 0.00) while Hawaii counters with senior right-hander Neil Uskali (2-1, 2.55 ERA).