For a three-hour, 22-minute game, it wasn’t extra innings that kept Alex Box open so long — it was scoring. LSU (3-0) produced 17 runs en route to defeat Air Force (1-2) 17-4 to cap an undefeated opening weekend.
The bats were alive throughout the game as seven of the nine starters recorded an RBI. The offense had help with a solid performance from freshman right-hander Jaden Hill.
Hill opened the game by striking out the side. Strikeouts became normal in his five innings as he punched out a total of eight.
“He was in complete command, showed great poise and composure,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “Stuff is outstanding, outstanding athlete and he did exactly what we were hoping he would do.”
The offense began when the first three batters reached for LSU with junior outfielder Zach Watson up to bat. He only had one hit going into Sunday's game.
Watson, sophomore designated hitter Saul Garza and sophomore catcher Brock Mathis all drove balls to right field producing five runs for the Tigers. Garza and Mathis struggled early in the weekend with a combined one hit in five at bats.
“I was trying to see the ball a little better, and then just trying to focus on balls up in the zone and hit pitches I can handle,” Garza said.
The lineup flipped back to junior shortstop Josh Smith who drove in the final run of the inning on a single, giving LSU a seven-run lead going into the second inning.
After a 25-minute half inning, Hill took the mound again and continued to pitch well. His breaking ball worked well with multiple swings-and-misses and strikeouts. It seems as though Hill will be able to throw that often this season.
“With Brock Mathis back there, or Saul Garza, I’m comfortable throwing any pitch you tell me to, so I’m very, very comfortable and very confident in throwing any pitch with them back there,” Hill said.
Hill allowed one walk but struck out two on his way to another shutout inning. The scoring didn’t stop for LSU though. Sophomore outfielder Daniel Cabrera stretched a single into a double then moved to third after a balk. Getting his second start, sophomore infielder Drew Bianco blasted a two-run home run to left field, extending the Tiger lead to nine.
A 1-2-3 inning from Hill led to more scoring for LSU. Sophomore infielder Hal Hughes drove his first hit of the season over the left fielder’s head, then was driven in by Smith on a slicing line drive to left field. The Tigers went into the fourth inning with a 10-run lead where Hill faced his first bit of adversity. He allowed his first run of the season then responded with two straight strikeouts.
In the bottom half, Hughes doubled for the second time — the first time he’s ever done so in his career — and Smith blooped a ball to left field, putting runners at second and third for senior outfielder Antoine Duplantis.
Duplantis ripped another long shot to drive in two more runs. Watson hit into a fielder’s choice but an error made allowed LSU to extend the lead to 13-1.
Mainieri brought in multiple bench players for the sixth inning with such a large lead. Hill ended his day after five innings, eight strikeouts and one run. Fellow freshman Chase Costello relieved him with a three-up, three-down inning. The substitutes produced offensively for the Tigers, driving in 2 runs and scoring 1.
Freshmen right-handers Rye Gunter and Riggs Threadgill and sophomore right-hander Trent Vietmeier finished the final three innings for the Tigers to close out the win. LSU didn’t score in the final three innings, but they didn’t need to as a result of the early barrage.
“It was nice to get off to a good start in that first inning,” Mainieri said. “We had some big hits and just got a lot of guys to play today, which was nice. We basically got everybody into the games and now feel like we’re in mid-season form, ready to go”