Tigers get superb pitching from Jaden Hill, but still have to rally late for the win

LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri wasn’t kidding when said Texas-San Antonio would be the ideal team for a three-game series to prepare the Tigers for the start of SEC play next Friday.

He noted the Roadrunners .320 team batting average and a pitching staff that had a 2.74 ERA holding opponents to batting .230.

On Friday night in Alex Box Stadium, LSU had just four hits off four UTSA pitchers, yet still won 3-1 thanks to left fielder Gavin Dugas’ two-run fielder’s choice in the eighth inning.

“When you win the close ones like that,” Mainieri said, “the guys start to believe you can win them. Every year, I tell my team your season will be defined how you do in the 1 and 2-run games. If you win your share of them, you have a good season. If you lose the close ones, you’re being competitive, but competitive is not what you’re searching for if you want to have a special season.”

LSU (12-3) and UTSA (5-4) play game two Saturday night at 7 p.m.  

Five LSU pitchers, led by 6.2 shutout innings from starter Jaden Hill, held UTSA to an eighth inning run.

It came from LSU first baseman Tre’ Morgan’s first error of the season. He couldn’t hold on to a sinking potential third-out throw from second baseman Zach Arnold, who made a play deep behind second base on UTSA right fielder Ian Bailey’s hard-hit ball down the middle.

The play doomed Hill to a no-decision more than inning after he had left the game. But he still got full redemption for last Friday’s 22-7 loss to Oral Roberts when he got tagged for eight runs and five hits and didn’t even finish the first inning as he was yanked after just one out.

“I changed my preparation and focused on adding that third pitch (a change-up) and being consistent with it the entire game,” said Hill, who gave up four UTSA hits, struck six and walked two. “I’m manipulated a few pitch grips, got something that felt good to me and I was able to execute it.”

Offense was hard to come by for UTSA batters facing Hill and LSU batters battling UTSA starter Luke Malone.

Through the first five scoreless innings, UTSA had no base runners reach third base and LSU had just one. UTSA was 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and LSU was 0 for 5.

Going into the sixth, Hill had already thrown 73 pitches and Malone 64.

Hill got through the sixth on 13 pitches with two strikeouts.

But LSU second baseman Cade Doughty put Malone’s second pitch of the Tigers’ sixth into the left field bleachers for LSU’s 23rd home run of the season for a 1-0 lead.

LSU followed with two well-hit balls for outs, prompting Malone to be lifted after 70 pitches.

Hill retired the first two batters in the UTSA seventh. With his pitch count at 96 with 56 strikes, he was lifted for reliever Aaron George. He immediately gave up a single to shortstop Joshua Lamb, but Lamb was caught stealing with a superb throw by LSU catcher Alex Milazzo to close the inning.

After a scoreless LSU seventh against Hunter Mason, UTSA’s third reliever, Mainieri sent LSU senior Devin Fontenot on the mound to start the UTSA eighth.

Fontenot, who in his first eight appearances this season hadn’t quite rounded into the form he showed in his first three years, got himself in a jam by giving up a single and issued one-out walk as he threw just seven strikes in his first 16 pitches. He retired UTSA designated hitter Kyle Bergeron for the second out on a fly to center.

Mainieri then made his third pitching change to senior Ma’Khail Hilliard.

UTSA’s Bailey slapped a liner up the middle that Arnold tracked down at the fringe of the outfield grass. He spun and threw to first baseman Morgan but he couldn’t hold on to the throw and pinch-runner Shane Sirdashney scored from second base to tie the game at 1-1. Hilliard struck out UTSA left fielder Ian Bailey to end the inning.

LSU loaded the bases with one out in its half of the eighth. Dugas banged a hot grounder off a 1-2 pitch that UTSA second baseman Johnathan Tapia flipped to shortstop Joshua Lamb ,who stepped on second base to force out designated hitter Cade Beloso.

Lamb whipped the ball to UTSA first baseman Leyton Barry to complete the inning ending double play, which would have negated Morgan scoring the go-ahead run from third base. But Dugas beat the throw in a bang-bang play and Barry paused for a beat questioning the call by first base umpire Ryan Broussard.

Meanwhile, LSU third base coach Nolan Cain also waved home Doughty, who scored from second. UTSA requested a replay review, which confirmed the call was correct.

“I was pretty confident that I beat the throw,” Dugas said. “But obviously that little doubt comes in if they do overturn it, it would make your heart drop. But when I saw them (the umps) give the `safe’ call (after the replay review), it was joy.”

Freshman Garrett Edwards, LSU’s fourth reliever on the night, set UTSA down in order in the top of the ninth to complete a win that almost got away.

“I think we have some type of swagger to us,” Doughty said. “We had a rough weekend last weekend (losing a three-game series to Oral Roberts). We made sure we came in, not lose our confidence and play like we’re capable.”

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Ron Higgins

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