Putting people on base was not a problem for LSU in its series opener against Hawaii, but bringing them home was another matter entirely.
Hawaii did not have that problem Friday: what little success Hawaii found against LSU’s excellent right-hander Zack Hess came when it jumped on his fastball, and it had a devastating effect.
Hawaii, which had hit three home runs all season coming into Friday, turned three Hess fastballs into solo home runs. When combined with a poor situational night for LSU offensively, those three swings were enough to make Hawaii a 4-2 winner in Game 1 of the series.
The Tigers (9-5) showed some signs of life in the bottom of the ninth, when a Brandt Broussard one-out double put runners at second and third for the heart of LSU’s order.
But as had been the case all game, LSU was not able to find the big hit when needed. Antoine Duplantis struck out and Beau Jordan flew out to right field, sealing the loss for LSU. The Tigers finished 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position.
"We had the right guys up there," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "They're doing their best, and they just came up short tonight."
Ethan Lopez greeted Hess rudely on the first pitch of the second inning, when he ambushed a 92 mph Hess fastball for a solo home run to left field.
In the next inning, Hess grooved a 3-2 fastball to Hawaii leadoff hitter Maaki Yamazaki, who drilled it for a solo home run to right field to put Hawaii ahead 2-1.
LSU tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, but the score did not remain tied for long. Logan Pouelsen led of the Hawaii seventh by turning on a 92 mph Hess fastball, depositing it in the right field bleachers for yet another solo home run.
"I left a couple fastballs over the heart of the plate, and you just can't do that at this level," Hess said. "You've got to give them credit: They capitalized on it. I've got to be better at commanding the strike zone and not controlling it."
Those three swings were virtually the only blemish of an otherwise fantastic night for Hess. Hess struck out nine in seven innings, six of which were called third strikes with his slider. In his last three starts, Hess has struck out 34 batters in 20 innings.
Hawaii managed only two other hits against LSU’s sophomore right-hander and managed only one runner in scoring position against him in seven innings.
"Usually solo homers don't beat you, but tonight they did," Hess said.
On the other side, LSU managed much more traffic against Hawaii starter Jackson Rees but was not able to make any of it matter.
The Tigers went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position against Rees, letting some opportunities for a big inning slip through their fingers.
The most notable missed chance came in the fourth inning, when Daniel Cabrera followed Hunter Feduccia’s leadoff single with an opposite field double.
Whatever momentum LSU seemed to be building was quickly snuffed out by the Hawaii defense.
Third baseman Ethan Lopez made a tremendous bare-hand pick on Bryce Jordan’s chopper down the third base line for the first out. Two batters later, after a walk to load the bases, Hawaii turned a nifty 6-4-3 double play to get out of the inning unscathed.
LSU put at least one runner in scoring position in four of the next five innings, but only managed one run in that span.
"It's frustrating," said Chris Reid, who had LSU's lone hit with runners in scoring position. "We have a lot of good hitters on our team. We have a lot of clutch hitters. ... Clutch hits seem to not be falling for us right now."