(This story has been updated following postgame press conference)
When LSU had to shift its starting pitching rotation last Monday when Saturday starter Jalen Hill was declared out for the season with a torn UCL, Sunday starter AJ Labas moved to Hill’s spot.
Tigers’ coach Paul Mainieri hung a vacancy sign on the Sunday slot and hoped some of his freshmen hurlers could get the job done.
LSU starters Landon Marceaux and Labas combined for 13.2 innings with 14 strikeouts and one walk while allowing four earned runs in 15-2 and 8-6 game one and game two wins at Kentucky Friday and Saturday to give the Tigers their first SEC series win of the year.
But that Sunday starting pitcher vacancy sign might be still hanging.
Six LSU pitchers got lit up for 13 hits including three homers as Kentucky led from start to finish in a 13-4 pounding in the series finale that dropped the Tigers to 20-12 overall and 3-9 in the SEC.
“The first two days our lineup showed great balance, we had good offensive output throughout the lineup,” Mainieri said. “Our two starting pitchers the first two days pitched deep into the games. You do that with your starting pitchers and have good balance in your lineup, you look like a good ballclub.
“We didn’t play horrible today until the bottom of the seventh inning when things got away from us.”
After Tigers’ first baseman Tre’ Morgan’s two-run homer cut the Wildcats’ lead to 5-3 in the top of the seventh, UK scored eight runs on four hits and two errors off four LSU pitchers in the bottom of the seventh.
“You could feel the energy from the dugout, it flipped a switch in us,” Morgan said of his fourth home run of the season and second in three days. “When we got back out there, we thought we had it. The ball didn’t really roll our way.”
Mainieri said he went into the Kentucky series believing he’d either use freshmen Garrett Edwards or Blake Money as his Sunday starter, depending on which pitcher he hadn’t already used in games or two in a relief role.
When Edwards threw 11 pitches to retire the last three batters in LSU 8-6 win on Saturday, Sunday’s starting job fell to Money.
He gave up six hits and five earned runs in four innings, striking out six and walking none. Yet he gave up two-run homers in the first and third innings to UK catcher Coltyn Kessler and center fielder Austin Schultz.
“I wish I had those two mistakes back,” Money said. “You take those off the plate and your team has a better chance to win. I learned you’ve got to make those pitches in those situations down in the zone so those guys can’t capitalize on those mistakes up.”
While LSU’s pitching was simply out of sync – it also issued four walks and hit four UK batters – the Tigers’ offense managed nine hits but left six on base.
LSU plays a Tuesday night 6:30 p.m. non-conference game vs. Grambling before opening a three-game SEC home series Thursday night at 6:30 vs. South Carolina.