Giovanni DiGiacomo had not played when he pulled on his batting gloves in the bottom of the 12th inning of the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader at Alex Box Stadium. LSU had loaded the bases in a tie game. DiGiacomo spit into his gloved hands.
Pinch hitting, DiGiacomo walked on five pitches. He never swung his bat, which he casually tossed toward the LSU dugout as he trotted to first base when the final pitch missed the strike zone.
Shut out through seven innings, LSU came back to beat Kentucky 2-1, the first extra inning game LSU (14-5) had played this season. Later, the No. 10 Tigers won the second game of the doubleheader 16-4.
LSU’s pitching staff struggled to just throw strikes at the beginning of the season and tended to unravel one inning per game over the last week. On Saturday, it did neither. The Tigers threw 11 shutout innings the first game.
“We knew once we got to SEC play we were going to turn it up a notch,” said sophomore Devin Fontenot, the winning pitcher in the first game. “We're not worried about anything we've done in the past.”
Friday night rain created the doubleheader, delaying LSU’s first Southeastern Conference game. Underway a few minutes after 2 p.m., junior Zack Hess put together his best start of the season.
His fastball touching 96 mph and his off-speed pitches dropping into the high 70s, Hess rattled off six scoreless innings after he allowed a run in the first inning. He went further into the game than any LSU starting pitcher had this season.
“Honestly, I feel like I could go out there and do more,” Hess said.
Hess did not exit until he ended the seventh inning by inducing a slow ground ball on his 118th pitch, but LSU trailed 1-0. Kentucky starter Zack Thompson had struck out nine hitters over six shutout innings.
“The way Zack Thompson was throwing,” coach Paul Mainieri said, “I was wondering if one run was going to cost us the ball game.”
The Tigers put a runner in scoring position six times before they tied the game in the eighth inning.
Meanwhile, Fontenot pitched five scoreless innings. Last Friday, Mainieri challenged him in his office after Fontenot walked the second hitter he faced against Cal. The next day, Fontenot threw four shutout innings. He struck out five Kentucky hitters.
“Two weeks in a row he has been our hero,” Mainieri said.
LSU poured out of the dugout for a tame celebration when DiGiacomo’s walk ended the game. The excitement did not last long. An hour later, Game 2 began.
The Tigers busted open the game early, scoring six runs — one unearned — in the second inning. Zach Watson hit his second home run of the season, and by the fourth inning, LSU led 14-3.
The offensive explosion, aided by three Kentucky errors, complemented the performance of starter Cole Henry, who exited last week after four scoreless innings with tightness in his upper back behind his throwing shoulder. Henry allowed three runs over five innings.
Reliever Trent Vietmeier gave one run over four innings, completing the doubleheader.
“As a staff, we've been taking steps in the right direction,” Hess said. “We just haven't quite gotten over that hump. I thought today we did a solid job of eliminating the big inning. We'd like to see that continue through the rest of this weekend.”