LSU may have been able to come from behind and salvage a midweek win, but Paul Mainieri was demonstrably unhappy with some of the at-bats put together by parts of his lineup.
Never afraid to tinker, the coach inserted two freshmen into the starting lineup and shuffled the order as Bryant came to town for the start of a three-game series.
Those moves all clicked as LSU mounted an opportunistic assault in support of Zack Hess, who worked five solid innings of one-run ball in a bounce-back effort. The Tigers exploded early and held on late for a 13-6 victory at Alex Box Stadium on Friday night.
Giovanni DiGiacomo, inserted into the two hole, reached base four times with two RBI and three runs scored. First baseman Cade Beloso went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored in his second career start. Hal Hughes was bumped up from ninth to seventh and drove in a pair of runs.
“Both of those guys have done really good things when they’ve had their opportunities,” Mainieri said of his two freshmen. “I thought tonight both of them really sparked our ball club.”
That proved to be more than enough help behind Hess, who worked himself into and out of trouble all night.
Bryant put at least one runner on base in all five of his innings as Hess scattered four hits, two walks and two hit batsman while striking out six.
Hess threw 22 fastballs in the first inning, but he mixed in his off-speed pitches from that point on. His slider and changeup were both far more effective weapons than in his rocky season debut.
“I felt like I was a little bit more synced up,” Hess said. “Going back to the leg kick, that gave my arm time to catch up on my off-speed pitches and get in sync. I think that was huge for me.”
LSU built him early lead by taking advantage of free passes handed out by Bryant right-hander Tyler Mattison and shoddy defense played behind him.
Zach Watson got hit by a pitch and Beloso singled the other way to get things going in the second inning. An error brought Watson home and Hughes — bumped up to seventh in the order — plated Beloso with an RBI single back through the box.
“I try to spray it around and not be a pull donkey,” said Beloso, who tallied a hit to every field. “Wherever they throw it, that’s where I try to hit it.”
LSU tacked on two more runs in each of the next two innings. Beloso and Daniel Cabrera picked up RBI infield singles and Hughes brought home his second run of the night with a well-placed ground ball.
Aided by two ghastly errors, LSU broke the game open in the fifth inning. Josh Smith pulled a two-run double down the right field line and DiGiacomo flared a two-run single into left field.
“We were really focused tonight on being tough outs,” Beloso said. “Coach had a meeting with us and got really into it. He said we were giving away at-bats in the first four games we played, and we took that personally.”
If there was a downside for LSU, it’s that Eric Walker struggled in his second appearance of the season. He worked a clean sixth inning in relief of Hess, but the right-hander uncharacteristically walked the bases loaded in the seventh and got pulled after allowing all three runs to score.
The LSU bullpen struggles continued into the eighth inning. Aaron George served up a leadoff home run and was relieved by Matt Beck, who loaded the bases and walked in a run.
LSU pitching issued seven walks and hit three batters on the night.
“That concerns me a lot,” Mainieri said. “You just can’t do that, especially when you have a big lead.”
Fortunately for LSU, Devin Fontenot finally put of the fire in the top of the eighth inning. The Tigers then re-extended the lead on a three-run home run from Daniel Cabrera, who now has three home runs and nine RBI through five games.
LSU will go for a series victory on Saturday night behind Landon Marceaux. First pitch was moved back to 7 p.m. instead of 3 p.m. due to inclement weather in the forecast.