Conditions were ripe for a return to Gorilla Ball on Friday night at Alex Box Stadium.
It was a warm night — 80 degrees at first pitch — but not terribly humid. The wind had the three flags beyond the wall in center field straining at their tethers, and the flags pointed toward the power alley in left-center.
"It was a hitter's night," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
LSU took full advantage of the conditions that made its home stadium play like a bandbox, while its ace pitcher, Zack Hess, made sure Tennessee did not, leading the way to a 9-3 series-opening victory.
LSU (22-13, 7-6 Southeastern Conference) belted leadoff homers in the first, second and third innings and finished the night with four long balls, all coming off Tennessee starter Garrett Crochet (2-5).
Hess (6-3) carved up the Volunteers (21-15, 5-8) for seven dazzling innings.
LSU made it look easy, especially when the likes of Jake Slaughter, mired in a season-long slump, was responsible for two of those four homers.
He tallied the first multiple-home-run game by an LSU player this season after launching missiles to the deepest part of the park in the second and third innings.
Slaughter followed the lead of Beau Jordan, who was only following orders.
"I told (Jordan) when we were stretching today that he was leading off," Mainieri said. "I said, 'I'd really like to see you hit the first pitch of the game for a home run.’ ”
Sure enough, Jordan took Crochet's first pitchfor a ride to the last row of the bleacher seats in the left-field landing below the scoreboard.
"I turned to all the other guys and said, 'It's finally nice to get some players that do as they're told,’ ” Mainieri wisecracked. "Obviously Beau got into that one. He loosened the whole team up."
It was a fitting beginning for a miserable outing by the Tennessee freshman left-hander.
Jordan’s homer to lead off the LSU first inning was the spark that ignited a three-run frame. Crochet was given a chance to reset his outing in the next inning, but he posted the exact same results.
He grooved his first pitch of the second inning to Slaughter, and the powerful Tigers third baseman did not miss the mistake, hitting it so hard it hit the camera man in the elevated well beyond the wall in center field. That keyed a three-run second inning.
The Volunteers were asking for it when they sent Crochet back out for the third inning. Hunter Feduccia greeted the pitcher in kind, with LSU’s third consecutive blast to lead off an inning.
Slaughter finished Crochet’s night, following Feduccia’s power stroke with one of his own, again to straightaway center field.
Crochet allowed eight runs on 10 hits in two-plus innings. His ERA climbed almost 1½ runs Friday.
The home runs were the loudest part of a complete offensive night for LSU. Antoine Duplantis raised his season average to .355 with a 3-for-5 night at the plate, and Austin Bain chipped in a career-high four hits. LSU finished with 15 hits overall.
That was more than enough for Hess, who was razor-sharp for the third straight outing.
Hess carried a no-hitter into the fourth inning and left the game having struck out twice as many batters (eight) than he allowed to reach base by hit or walk (four).
In his last three starts, all LSU wins, Hess has allowed just 10 hits and two earned runs in 21⅔ innings, striking out 23 over that span. He lowered his ERA to a season-low 3.71 — the first time it has been under 4.00 this year.
"When you don't start for a year, I definitely think there was a little bit of a learning curve for me," Hess said. "Now, I feel like things are coming more natural. I'm getting into that starter's mindset, figuring out ways to get deeper into the game."
But the story of the night was the power display. It was LSU’s first four-homer game at Alex Box Stadium since Feb. 21, 2016, against Cincinnati.
Sustained offense had been hard to come by recently for the Tigers.
All of the runs it had scored in the four games leading up to Friday’s contest had come in single innings, meaning LSU was scoreless in 31 of its previous 35 innings when the game against Tennessee began.
That trend ended dramatically Friday.