Apparently all LSU needed to finally get off to a fast start was a dose of Friday night lights and a ranked, blue blood opponent.
A shorthanded LSU lineup erupted for eight runs in the first three innings and Zack Hess turned in far and away the best outing by an LSU starter so far.
The Tigers, missing stars Josh Smith and Zach Watson, pounded out 16 hits and scored eight runs with two outs to hammer Texas 13-4 in the opener of a high-profile series at Alex Box Stadium on Friday night.
“I had almost forgot how much fun it is to coach at LSU when you get starting pitching performances like that,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
Most of the damage came from the bottom of the makeshift order. Bryce Jordan tied a school record with four walks, Brandt Broussard went 4-for-5 with four RBI and Hal Hughes two 2-for-4 with two RBI of his own. Combined they tallied six RBI and scored six runs.
But the story of the night was Hess, who struck out a career-high 10 and allowed two runs on five hits in six largely dominant innings to earn the win. He also dropped his inflated ERA by about 20 runs to 10.80 in the process.
The big right-hander mowed down the final eight batters he faced to notch the first quality start by a Tiger this season. He maintained his fastball velocity at 92-94 mph through the sixth inning and strutted off the mound with the presence of the ace LSU desperately needs him to be.
No inning was more important than the first. Mainieri told Hess to attack it like a closer would the ninth inning in Omaha, pitch counts be damned. Hess struck out the side to set the tone for a one-sided night.
“I think the big thing for me was to get that first one out of the way,” Hess said. “Just go out there and have a nice clean inning and kind of establish the strike zone early on. That really helped me for the rest of the night.”
Meanwhile LSU came out smoking against Texas ace Nolan Kingham with three successive hits, including an RBI single from Antoine Duplantis. The Tigers got a runner cut down at the plate, but Texas gave it back and them some with a couple of mind-numbing errors that brought a pair of runs home.
LSU wasn’t done, either. With two on and two out, Broussard smoked a two-run double into the left-center field gap off Kingham. Four of the five runs were unearned as LSU sent its entire lineup to the plate in the first.
Texas drew closer with a pair of runs in the second, but the Tigers went back to work against Kingham in the third. Hal Hughes brought home a run with a two-out single and Daniel Cabrera followed with a two-run double. Kingham lasted only three innings and allowed eight runs (four earned).
“That kid we faced tonight is one of the very best pitchers in the country,” Mainieri said. “That would be a quality Friday night starter in the SEC. I just thought our guys were absolutely relentless tonight at the plate.”
LSU kept hitting against the Texas bullpen, loading the bases with two outs for that pesky second baseman again. Broussard trickled a seeing-eye single up the middle and plated two more runs. LSU scored three more runs in the sixth to blow the game wide open.
“It’s definitely a big difference from last weekend,” Broussard said. “We’re getting a lot of big two-out hits. You’ve got to be able to get those hits in clutch situations.”
The Tigers will go for a series victory on Saturday with first pitch set for 6:30 p.m. LSU will send Caleb Gilbert (0-0, 10.38 ERA) to the mound and Texas will counter with right-hander Chase Shugart (0-0, 0.00 ERA).
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