BATON ROUGE, La. ? The LSU baseball team made its first SEC win way harder than it needed to be.
Behind 6 strong innings from sophomore starting pitcher Zack Hess and 3 early runs from an otherwise stymied offense, No. 16 LSU defeated No. 24 Missouri 4-2?on Friday. With the win, LSU improved to 13-6 on the year and 1-0 in SEC play, while Missouri dropped to 14-4.
?I think we made it a little more difficult than it had to be,? LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. ?We just had so many chances to break the game open. 11 runners left on base. 11 walks. If you had the 5 hits we had 16 base runners and we got 4 runs. We?ve got to be better than that.?
The score was close, but LSU had more than a few opportunities to expand its lead. LSU batted?1-for-12?with runners in scoring position and stranded?11?runners on base, ending an inning with the bases loaded twice. As a team, the Tigers batted?0-for-5?with the bases loaded, squandering opportunities in the first and sixth innings.
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LSU?s first hit with a runner in scoring position came in the eighth inning when sophomore centerfielder Zach Watson doubled down the third-base line, scoring third baseman Chris Reid. Prior to that at-bat, Watson was hitting .118 with runners in scoring position in 2018.
?That one run makes a huge difference whether you think so or not,? Watson said. ?That makes them think they have to get 3 runs instead of 2 to take the lead. It?s a big relief to have that hit and that run. I know I can do it. I?ve known I?ve been able to. I just haven?t been able to get the job done. To get that clutch hit it felt really good.?
Hess pitched about as well as anyone could?ve wanted through his first six innings, striking out 8 batters an keeping the visiting Tigers off balance. But for as strong as Hess? day was, Missouri made him work for it. The sophomore right-hander threw?107?pitches,?59?for strikes, and walked?5?batters but limited the damage by allowing just 3 hits. Missouri pushed Hess to his limit in the third inning, loading the bases with two outs, but Hess struck out Missouri cleanup hitter Brian Sharp to end the threat.
Still, Hess ran out of gas in the seventh inning. He walked three straight batters to load the bases before giving the ball off to sophomore relief pitcher Nick Bush. Bush allowed two of the runners to score on a sacrifice fly and an RBI ground out but preserved the LSU lead at 3-2. Hess finished with 6+ innings pitched, striking out 8 batters and allowing 3 hits.
?I feel like I was missing just by a hair on a couple of those pitches that I feel like could?ve gone either way,? Hess said of the seventh inning. ?Obviously not. The ump thought they were balls. But you?ve just got to be better than that. I?ve got to be better in the future with fastball command. I thought that was pretty good for me the rest of the night, but you?ve got to carry that all the way through. You can?t let up.?
Bush followed his performance in the seventh with a 1-2-3 scoreless eighth inning on a strikeout and two fly outs. Senior Austin Bain replaced Bush in the ninth, earning his second save of the year behind 2 strikeouts.
Coming into Friday, Missouri starter Bryce Montes de Oca was among the SEC?s most effective starters, boasting a 1.57 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 23 innings. But a patient LSU offense tagged him for 2 runs in the first inning without a hit. The Tigers? offense drew 5 walks in the first inning alone, pushing across two early runs on an RBI fielder?s choice from first baseman Austin Bain and a bases loaded walk from third baseman Chris Reid. This marked the eighth straight game LSU scored at least one run in the first inning.
?They had scored in eight-straight games in the first inning,? Mainieri said about Missouri. ?Then all of the sudden we score in two in the bottom of the first, they?ve got to play from behind and they?re not used to that. They started playing a little bit more station-to-station baseball.?
Beau Jordan supplied the big blast, giving the Tigers a third run with a solo home run in the third inning. Jordan smashed the ball off the bat at 102.2 mph and it traveled an estimated 413 feet, landing for the senior?s team-leading fourth home run.
HAS THAT BALL LANDED YET? ?
Beau Jordan rocked his fourth homer of the season over the left field landing to give LSU the 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third!
?: https://t.co/TzdniQ8T25 pic.twitter.com/4IkuW4pODr
? LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) March 17, 2018
What?s next for LSU baseball?
LSU baseball returns to action on Saturday for a nightcap against Missouri. Action is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. CT and will be televised on the SEC Network. Online users will be able to stream the game on their wireless-enabled devices through WatchESPN.