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LSU starting pitcher Jaden Hill (0) pitches in the first inning of LSU's game versus University of Texas-San Antonio Friday night in LSU's Alex Box Stadium.

Gavin Dugas sprinted down the first base line and spread his arms wide once he crossed the bag Friday night, convinced he was safe on a potential game-winning sprint in the eighth inning. If Dugas was correct, LSU took the lead. Otherise, it remained tied with UTSA. The umpire signaled. Safe.

With the bases loaded and one out inside Alex Box Stadium, Dugas had nearly grounded into a double play, but he beat the throw to first base. Umpires confirmed the call after review. The effort allowed two runs to score, and No. 15 LSU won 3-1, regaining the lead after the Tigers nearly wasted a quality start from ace Jaden Hill in the first game of a weekend series.

“He looked like a cheetah,” Hill said, laughing. “He was running so fast.”

Behind Hill, who completed the longest start of his career one week after the worst outing of his career, LSU (12-3) won its third straight game despite a night of sparse offensive production. The Tigers had four hits. UTSA finished with six.

With the score tied 1-1 in the eighth, freshman Dylan Crews hit a leadoff single and freshman Tre’ Morgan was hit by a pitch. Sophomore Cade Doughty nearly grounded into a double play, but UTSA third baseman Austin Ochoa tagged third and threw the ball past the first baseman, allowing LSU to put runners in scoring position.

Dugas approached the plate after UTSA (5-4) intentionally walked designated hitter Cade Beloso. Dugas was 0 for 3. He fell into a 1-2 count. Then Dugas knocked a ground ball toward UTSA second baseman Jonathan Tapia. He flipped the ball to the shortstop. Dugas beat the throw to first base. LSU retook the lead.

“I knew I hit it hard, so I knew there would be little time to get to first base,” Dugas said. “I was trying to get there as quick as possible.”

“We have a saying, ‘Luck is the residue of design,’” coach Paul Mainieri Mainieri said. “Had he struck out, nothing good would have happened there.”

Dugas’ dash rescued LSU after Hill pitched 6 ⅔ scoreless innings. The junior right-hander, who recorded one out and allowed eight runs before Mainieri pulled him in the first inning last week, threw a career-high 96 pitches. He scattered four hits while notching six strikeouts.

Hill had called his start last week “unacceptable.” He tried to improve his slider to balance his changeup and fastball, a pitch Oral Roberts attacked in that disastrous first inning. An aggressive team, UTSA also tried to jump on Hill’s fastball.

“Jaden started dropping sliders and changeups in there at will,” Mainieri said. “You could tell Jaden’s confidence grew, and it gave him confidence in his fastball because they couldn’t sit on his fastball.”

Hill continued mixing pitches, and though he struggled with his command at times, throwing 40 balls and walking two batters, he settled the longer he pitched — an encouraging sign before Southeastern Conference play begins next weekend with a home series against Mississippi State.

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Meanwhile, LSU tagged ball after ball with almost no results until Doughty turned on an inside curveball to lead off the sixth inning. The ball landed against the back of the left field bleachers. The solo home run, Doughty’s fourth this year, broke a scoreless tie. UTSA pulled starter Luke Malone two batters later.

Hill returned for the seventh inning for the first time in his career. He had thrown 86 pitches, already a career high. The LSU bullpen stirred. Hill threw a 94 mph fastball on the first pitch, his velocity still present late in the game. He retired the first two batters before Mainieri replaced him with senior right-hander Aaron George.

“I didn’t want to totally empty his tank,” Mainieri said. “I thought he was tremendous.”

Hill stood on the mound, waiting for George as he jogged through the field. He wanted to finish the inning. Mainieri patted his back. Hill held onto the ball until George arrived and handed it to his replacement himself. Hill hugged the reliever and walked off the mound to a standing ovation.

“I knew I wanted to go deep into the game,” Hill said. “In order to do that, I had to be at my best. I feel like what’s how I finished.”

George allowed a single to the first batter he faced, but catcher Alex Milazzo threw out the runner as he tried stealing second base.

LSU turned to senior right-hander Devin Fontenot in the eighth. The closer, who struggled recently and appeared earlier in games this week, allowed two runners to reach base with one out. Senior Ma’Khail Hilliard quickly warmed in the bullpen. He entered after Fontenot recorded the second out.

Hilliard faced UTSA right fielder Ian Bailey, who was 2 for 3 with a double. Hilliard induced a ground ball up the middle. Second baseman Zach Arnold fielded the ball and threw off balance to Morgan. For once, the first baseman who has saved so many errant throws missed the catch. The rare error allowed a run to score.

“I'm sure that's the first time I've ever seen him drop a throw,” Mainieri said. “Probably will be the last time, too.”

Hilliard struck out the next batter, and in the bottom of the frame, LSU retook the lead for good.

Every year, Mainieri tells his teams close games like the one LSU played Friday night will define their season. The Tigers had entered the weekend series 2-2 in games decided by less than three runs. This time, they won another one.

“When you win the close ones like that, the guys start to believe they can win them,” Mainieri said. “In order to have a special season, you have to win the close ones.”

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