Giovanni DiGiacomo had not played all day when he pulled on his batting gloves in the bottom of the 12th inning at Alex Box Stadium on Saturday. LSU had loaded the bases in a tie game. DiGiacomo spit into his gloved hands.
Pinch hitting for Drew Bianco, who had not recorded a hit in five at-bats as the designated hitter, DiGiacomo walked on five pitches. He flipped his bat toward the LSU dugout and trotted to first base as the final pitch missed the strike zone.
Shut out through seven innings, LSU came back to beat Kentucky 2-1. The No. 10 Tigers did not hit well with runners in scoring position, but Zack Hess and Devin Fontenot threw 11 shutout innings as LSU rallied to win the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. It was LSU's first game to reach extra innings this season.
Coach Paul Mainieri said he put DiGiacomo in the game because his speed reduced the chance of a double play. DiGiacomo, a freshman, never swung.
“He handled it with tremendous poise,” Mainieri said.
After rain moved the game from Friday night, Hess put together his best start of the season.
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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 has this season.
“Honestly, I feel like I could go out there and do more,” Hess said after the game. “With last night's game getting rained out, I felt good the whole time.”
As Fontenot warmed up in the seventh inning, Mainieri walked to the mound with a runner on second and one out. He asked Hess if he could get out the next two hitters.
“Yeah,” Hess said. “I'll get you out of the inning.”
He struck out the next batter.
LSU won a baseball game Wednesday night at Alex Box Stadium, but the result hardly seemed to matter.
Hess did not come out until he ended the seventh inning by inducing a slow ground ball on his 118th pitch. When Hess reached the dugout, his teammates came out to pat him on the back and offer fist bumps.
LSU still trailed by a run. Kentucky starter Zack Thompson had struck out nine hitters over six shutout innings.
“The way Zack Thompson was throwing,” 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 scored a run in the eighth inning. With the bases loaded, Bianco walked to the plate with a .138 batting average.
Bianco opened the season as the starting first baseman, but he lost his spot in the lineup until Mainieri inserted him as the designated hitter earlier this week. Back in the lineup, Bianco had gone 2 for 10. He walked to tie the game.
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The Tigers loaded the bases for Cade Beloso, but Beloso grounded into a double play that ended the inning. They loaded the bases in the ninth inning, too, but a diving catch by Kentucky left fielder Breydon Daniel sent the game to extra innings.
Fontenot entered in the eighth inning. 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 followed that with five shutout innings against Kentucky. He allowed two hits. Fontenot said he "can't remember anything" about the season before his conversation with Mainieri.
“Two weeks in a row he has been our hero,” Mainieri said.
When an error on Beloso put a Kentucky runner on third base in the 12th inning, Fontenot induced a swinging strikeout and a pop-up to end the inning. A few minutes later, DiGiacomo walked. But the excitement did not last long. An hour later, Game 2 began.