Two pitches into his first collegiate at-bat, Cade Doughty turned on a changeup hanging over the middle of the plate. The ball left no doubt of its destination, landing behind the left-field wall inside Alex Box Stadium.
Doughty felt numb. He pounded his chest as he finished his trot around the bases, then Doughty stomped on home plate, hugged junior outfielder Daniel Cabrera and strutted toward waiting teammates. They formed a tight huddle with Doughty in the center, screaming around the freshman who had given LSU a two-run lead with his first swing.
Doughty’s home run sparked LSU on Friday night. LSU beat Indiana 8-1, winning its season-opening game for the 19th straight year. The No. 11 Tigers (1-0) scored five runs on home runs despite stiff wind.
“I didn't think we'd hit any balls out tonight,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “Man, we crushed two.”
As LSU continued to celebrate its championship football season, the night began with a ceremonial first pitch from coach Ed Orgeron. He spiked the throw, encouraged the Tigers to play to the “LSU standard of performance” then raised his hand.
“Kick a** on three,” Orgeron said.
There is something special about an opening night in baseball that isn’t the same for any other sport.
In the bottom of the first inning, Doughty felt nervous walking toward the plate. The son of former LSU catcher Richard Doughty and younger brother of junior Braden Doughty, the second baseman from Denham Springs had spent his life watching LSU baseball games. When he had the choice between college and professional baseball last summer, he picked LSU.
Doughty wanted to hit the ball over the second baseman’s head, an approach that has sometimes made him swing early against off-speed pitches. He expected Indiana left-hander Tommy Sommer to throw a fastball in a 1-1 count. Sommer hung a changeup. Doughty crushed it.
“Growing up being an LSU fan, you dream of moments like this,” Doughty said. “As I rounded first base and I realized the ball went over the fence, I don't know what I exactly did. I screamed really loud.”
Doughty was the first player to hit a home run in his first LSU at-bat since Beau Didier in 2009. After Doughty walked during his second plate appearance, he advanced to third base when junior Zack Mathis singled.
Catcher Saul Garza soon lifted a high fly ball. LSU had discussed hitting low line drives because of the weather. The ball pushed through the wind blowing into the stadium, past gusts that had knocked down a possible home run from sophomore Drew Bianco earlier in the game. The home run dropped a few rows into the left-field bleachers. LSU led 5-0.
“I didn't hit mine like Cade Doughty over there,” Garza said later, nodding toward the freshman. “He smashed his straight into the wind.”
Former LSU baseball coach and athletic director Skip Bertman suffered a couple broken ribs during a single-car accident on Friday afternoon, according to an LSU spokesman.
While LSU stretched its lead, sophomore right-hander Cole Henry shut down Indiana. Henry, the ace of LSU’s staff this season, pitched four scoreless innings. He struck out eight batters while allowing three hits.
Henry threw well throughout his start. His fastball touched 96 mph, and he peppered batters with curveballs and changeups of varying speeds. He performed like a Friday night starter in the Southeastern Conference, Mainieri said.
Henry wanted to pitch longer, but he reached too many full counts. The Tigers pulled Henry at 71 pitches, four less than the limit for LSU’s starters this weekend.
“The first time out I'm not as crisp as I could be,” Henry said.
Indiana’s leadoff batter did not reach base until the fifth inning, when LSU left-handed pitcher Brandon Kaminer fumbled a bunt. Kaminer walked the next hitter. Indiana scored an unearned run without getting a ball past the infield, but Kaminer retired the next five batters.
As Indiana dipped into its bullpen, LSU walked four times in the sixth inning. The Tigers padded their lead, scoring one run because of errors on the Indiana left fielder and another on a sacrifice fly by Mathis, who later drove in the final run.
Who's starting, how to watch and what to watch for when LSU baseball plays a doubleheader against Indiana.
LSU did not let another Indiana batter reach scoring position. The Tigers never trailed, protecting their bullpen for the series-ending doubleheader on Saturday.
LSU will not cut through the rest of its schedule with such ease, but at least on the first night, the Tigers began their season with a convincing win. And as the Tigers search for reliable starters, Doughty began to emerge.
As Doughty answered questions afterward, his mother took pictures from the stands. He said he will never forget this game.
Doughty arrived on campus as the 2019 Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year and a 2019 Collegiate Baseball All-American. He struggled at times during fall practice, but the last few weeks, Doughty earned a spot in the opening day lineup. He batted second. He walked twice.
“He's not afraid up there,” Mainieri said.
Though Mainieri wants Doughty to improve his defense, the freshman showed his offensive potential.
“I have no idea what he's capable of doing yet,” Garza said, “because every day he keeps getting better.”