Junior pitcher Zack Hess said it feels like LSU is starting to play like the No. 1 ranked team everyone thought they were going to be heading into the season.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said Saturday’s game against Southern Miss felt much like game three of the 2009 national championship game against Texas which saw LSU get an early lead and explode offensively after the game became tied to ultimately win 11-4.
Things became hectic for LSU when junior pitcher Todd Peterson loaded the bases on no hits in the bottom of the seventh inning with no outs. Mainieri inserted Hess into the game, and after falling behind 1-2 in the count to Hess, Southern Miss’ Matthew Guidry golfed a slider into the right field bleachers for a grand slam to tie things at four.
But, as they did in 2009, LSU bounced back. This time with a three-run eighth inning, ignited by sophomore left fielder Daniel Cabrera’s leadoff double. Then with the bases loaded and no outs, sophomore catcher Saul Garza stepped to the plate and hit a two-RBI single to give LSU the lead, a night after he a three-RBI double down the right field line against Stony Brook.
The moment encapsulates the last 16 days for Garza. He’s gone 20-for-38 with eight RBIs over that span and is on a 10-game hit streak, the last six being multi-hit games.
As the crowd chanted Bulè as an ode to Garza’s walk-up song, “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs, it reminded Mainieri of something Garza used to do during the summer.
“He used to send me text message pictures from home when he would kill rattlesnakes in his yard,” Mainieri said of the Edinburgh, Texas native. “He would blow the head off and hold the rattlesnake up in the air and take a picture. I figured if the kid had courage enough to fight rattlesnakes in his yard, he could probably play baseball at LSU.”
Garza’s clutch hit may have protected Hess’ house as well – not against rattlesnakes, but other factors.
“I was really hoping our offense was going get me a lead again because I didn’t want the people of Baton Rouge to burn down my house tonight,” said Hess on his mindset after giving up the game-tying grand slam.
Eventually, he bounced back with four strikeouts to one hit and one walk over the next three innings to defeat Southern Miss 8-4, and earning his fourth win of the year to send LSU to the regional final against either Arizona State or Southern Miss on Sunday at 8 p.m.
But it’s not be the recovery of Hess that inspires him and Mainieri the most going forward. It’s the continued progress of freshman pitcher Cole Henry, who threw 85 pitches five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and three walks to six strikeouts.
Henry’s progress is a welcomed sight in his second game back after missing a month with elbow soreness. Then there’s junior Zach Watson’s dominance of anything involving Baton Rouge Regionals, Cabrera’s bounce back after a rough Southeastern Conference Tournament, and the reemergence of senior second baseman Brandt Broussard at the plate.
Watson hit his sixth career home run and has a slugging percentage of 1.190 in five career games in Baton Rouge Regionals, and Cabrera is 3-for-7 with four runs in the last two games, while Broussard is 11-for-22 five RBIs and hit his first career home run since the start of the SEC Tournament.
For LSU, everything seems to be coming together at the right time, and the opportunity for a run in the postseason is starting to develop.
“I think the character of this team has stayed true throughout the entire year,” Hess said. “I think what you’re seeing now is guys starting to fulfill their potential and we’re starting to get healthy, and we’re starting to play like we should.”