LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky lived up to its reputation in the first game of a Friday doubleheader against LSU.
The Southeastern Conference’s top hitting and scoring offense blasted LSU for 16 hits and 12 runs to take the first game of the series 12-5. It was the most hits and most runs given up by LSU this season.
But what irritated LSU coach Paul Mainieri the most was the eight walks and three batters hit by pitch.
“We gave them (almost) a dozen free passes,” Mainieri said. “It’s a tough ballpark to pitch in; there’s no doubt about it. Everything that’s popped up has a chance to go out of the park, and the pitchers were very tentative because of that.
“They’re going to get hits in this park. That’s just the way it is. But you’ve got to minimize how many free passes you give to them.”
Kentucky scored a run in six of its eight offensive innings, and had a runner thrown out at the plate in its two scoreless innings. Seven different Kentucky players finished with base hits and six of them finished with multiple hits. A couple of them turned in huge performances.
Second baseman Riley Mahan picked up his fifth hit of the day before the seventh inning came to a close, and Luke Becker smashed two home runs after entering the game as a pinch hitter in the fifth, one of which was a seventh-inning grand slam.
On the flip side, much of LSU’s traffic on the base paths was courtesy of free passes from the Kentucky pitching staff. The Wildcats walked eight batters and hit four more, but LSU only finished with six hits.
Kentucky (27-12, 11-5) usually found an escape route for the jams it got itself in. LSU did not do the same.
It was evident from the beginning the Wildcats had LSU starter Jared Poché’s number.
Four of the first five hitters in the Kentucky lineup collected a base hit to start the game, resulting in a pair of Kentucky runs, the damage mitigated to a degree by Poché picking off the lead runner.
LSU (26-13, 9-7) responded by drilling three doubles in the top of the next inning to tie the game, but the Wildcats went right back to work on Poché.
Kentucky tagged him for three more hits and three more runs in the third inning, the big hit being a two-run, two-out single by third baseman Tyler Marshall that gave the Wildcats a 5-2 lead.
Poché would finish the third inning, but would not come back out for the fourth. He has now given up 22 earned runs in 33.1 innings against SEC opponents, giving him a 6.32 ERA against league teams.
Meanwhile, LSU’s offense could not figure out Kentucky starter Sean Hjelle after its two-run second inning.
If Hjelle (pronounced: Jelly) found himself in trouble, more often than not he’d make the big pitch to get himself out of it.
The Tigers had runners at the corners with two outs in the third when he got Jordan Romero to ground out to short.
They had runners on first and second with one out in the fourth, but the 6-foot-11 right-hander swatted down a Duplantis comebacker and fired to second to start a 1-6-3 double play.
He was in trouble one more time to start the fifth, when he plunked Kramer Robertson and Cole Freeman back-to-back. Once again, he made the big pitch, getting Zach Watson to roll into a rally-killing 5-4-3 double play.
LSU finally got to the bullpen after Robertson drew a leadoff walk to start the seventh, but the results were too similar. Though Freeman pounded a double off the left field wall to cut the deficit to 7-3, LSU’s potential for a big inning dried up when Romero grounded into LSU’s third double play of the game.
“The double plays killed us,” Mainieri said. “We hit into three double plays at critical times.”
With the short porch in right field looming, LSU’s left-handed power hitter Greg Deichmann was never given an opportunity to impact the game until it was too late to matter.
He hit an opposite field double off the wall to lead off the second and was subsequently walked three times, once intentionally and all with runners on base in front of him.
With his team trailing 12-4, Deichmann was finally given something to hit and led off the LSU ninth with a solo homer to right field.