LSU starting pitcher Zack Hess (38) pitches against Notre Dame, Saturday, February 17, 2018, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

Whatever voodoo the Tigers used to overcome a six-run deficit on opening night was absent Saturday.

For the second straight night, Notre Dame knocked LSU’s starting pitcher out of the game early, and this time the Irish finished the job, handing LSU a 10-5 loss to even the series.

"You can’t make a habit of digging a hole that big every game and expect to come out of it," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. 

Again, the Irish (1-1) raced out in front of LSU (1-1) by feasting on the Tigers' starting pitcher. A night after Caleb Gilbert could not make it out of the fifth inning, Zack Hess did not finish the third. 

Hess’ debut in LSU’s weekend rotation went sideways from the start, when he threw less than half of his 24 pitches in the first inning for strikes. He walked the bases loaded in that first frame, allowing Notre Dame to take a 1-0 lead before LSU ever grabbed a bat. 

Hess (0-1) flashed the stuff that made him so dominant as a late-game force for LSU last season, bumping 96 miles an hour in the first inning with his fastball and buckling some knees with his slider.

But he could not locate that premium stuff and that led to an inglorious exit for the prized pitcher.

"We lost because I couldn't get the job done," Hess said. "That one's on me." 

He needed 20-plus pitches to get through both the first and second innings. His first pitch of the third inning — his 47th of the game — was ripped into right-center for a leadoff single by Notre Dame’s Jake Johnson.

His outing unraveled from that point: The next five Irish batters reached base. Hess walked the first two, gave up a two-run single after a wild pitch, then allowed a two-run missile to left field by Eric Gilgenbach. 

LSU pulled him with one out in that third inning after his 78th pitch of the game missed for ball four to No. 9 hitter Spencer Myers.

At issue was Hess’ inability to locate home plate umpire Eddie Newsom’s strike zone. Only 44 of his 78 pitches found the strike zone. In his abbreviated outing, he walked six batters and allowed eight runs. By falling behind in counts, Hess limited his strength of getting batters to chase pitches out of the strike zone. 

"He’s just got to keep working and getting better, and I believe he will," Mainieri said.

For the second consecutive evening, it was up to the LSU bullpen to keep Notre Dame off the board and give the Tigers lineup a chance to rally. Again, they delivered.

Freshman Trent Vietmeier was phenomenal in his LSU debut, allowing just two base runners and striking out four in 3⅔ scoreless innings. He turned it over to fellow freshman Ma’Khail Hilliard, who also turned in two scoreless innings.

But a night after erasing a 6-0 deficit in dramatic fashion Friday, LSU could not climb out of the hole Hess dug Saturday, largely because it could not figure out Notre Dame freshman left-hander Cole Kmet, who entered with two on and nobody out in the fifth and proceeded to shut the Tigers down.

Kmet allowed just three baserunners in his four scoreless innings and closed the game out by striking out Zach Watson with runners at the corners for the final out. 

Sunday at 11 a.m., LSU and Notre Dame will play a rubber match of a series in which Notre Dame has led for 16½ of the 18 innings played. 

"They think they’re better than us," said senior Beau Jordan. "We’ve got to come out and prove them wrong."


Follow Luke Johnson on Twitter, @ByLukeJohnson.