LSU catcher Kade Scivicque took one of those new college baseballs on the ride it was meant for.
Scivicque blasted a three-run home run to the top row of the metal bleachers beyond left field, and the Tigers’ new Friday night ace – Jared Poché – pitched a two-hitter in a 4-1 season-opening win over Kansas at Alex Box Stadium.
Scivicque’s bomb highlighted an opening night marked, also, by the debut of the new lower-seam baseballs. The NCAA hopes the balls reignite a college baseball offense that has slumped since the new bats were implemented in 2011.
“The last pitch I hit, he hung a slider up and in,” Scivicque said. “I just got the bat through the zone and hit it hard. I knew I hit that ball really well. I hit it as best I could.”
The new balls are expected to travel 20-30 feet farther when hit well. Scivicque got it all.
Would it have been out with the old balls?
“I think it would’ve,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “That was a big topic of discussion in the dugout. I think everybody agreed it would have been a home run with the old balls. The only one we couldn’t agree on was whether or not it would have been a home run in Omaha.”
Scivicque tossed his bat aside and trotted to first base, knowing full well it had left the park to jump start the Tigers to a 3-0 lead in the second inning.
Poché allowed just two hits through his six innings, struck out five and walked one, helping lead LSU (1-0) to its 14th straight season-opening victory on Friday the 13th and in front of a paid crowd of 11,122. The school did not release an actual attendance.
Friday’s season opener wasn’t just like any other.
LSU baseball made its debut on the new online streaming portion of the SEC Network at SEC Network Plus, and Alex Box saw its first LSU sidewinder take the mound for the first time in 10 years.
Also, the Tigers played a Friday night game without ace Aaron Nola, the seventh pick in last year’s draft who’s playing in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
Nola made a cameo. He threw out the first pitch – a strike – to former LSU star shortstop Austin Nola.
Poché seemed just fine in the Friday night role he has, at least temporarily, assumed from Nola. Kansas had four base runners in Poché’s six innings, and the Jayhawks (0-1) didn’t get on board until an RBI double in the eighth off of reliever Zac Person.
“He threw strikes. That’s the important thing,” Mainieri said of Poché. “Their first two hitters are work-the-count kind of guys. The last thing you want to do is walk those kind of guys and set the table for the power hitters. He pounded the strike zone and made some very big pitches.”
LSU finished with six hits – five off 250-pound KU starter Drew Morovick – on a night when the new balls seemed to be the buzz across college baseball’s opening day. Georgia hit five home runs, for instance, and Tulane had three. Those two schools had a combined 23 homers all of last season.
The Tigers didn’t commit an error, and second baseman Kramer Robertson made a pair of dazzling plays in the field – snagging a line drive and making a sliding grab on a grounder in shallow right.
“Part of the story was the amazing defense,” Mainieri said. “Some of those plays may look routine to you up in the press box or in the stands, but they aren’t.”
Chris Chinea, starting the season at cleanup, tied a career-high with two hits and drove in the only other run in third inning. Sidewinding hurler Collin Strall retired the side in the seventh with two strikeouts. He became the first sidearmer to pitch for LSU since Jordan Faircloth.
Redshirt freshman Jesse Stallings, being groomed for the closer role, allowed a leadoff double in the top of the ninth, but he struck out three straight batters to get his first save and down the pesky Jayhawks.
Coach Ritch Price lost just his second game at Alex Box Stadium in seven tries. He brought Kansas teams to Baton Rouge in 2003 and 2010. The Jayhawks swept the Tigers in ’03 and took two of three to a then-No. 1-ranked LSU team in seven years later.
“It was a pretty business-like victory with a couple of clutch hits,” Mainieri said. “I know tomorrow we’ll come out swinging the bats.”
Lawrence Barreca contributed to this report.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.