The infielders jogged to the mound and surrounded Cole Henry as the fans at Alex Box Stadium stood and applauded.
As coach Paul Mainieri took Henry out of the game in the sixth inning on Friday night, first baseman Cade Beloso shook Henry’s hand. The Tigers formed a column outside the dugout for him to walk through.
The freshman pitcher gave the No. 15 Tigers a rejuvenating start, leading them to a 13-1 win that evened the series against Florida.
Who's starting, how to watch and what to watch for as LSU baseball ends a series with Florida.
Henry set a career-high in strikeouts, 12, the most by an LSU pitcher this season.
“Every week he steps onto the mound I think we witness more and more of what he's capable of doing,” Beloso said.
One day after Mainieri discussed the importance of starting pitching following LSU’s worst loss of the season, Henry shut down the Gators (26-15, 7-10 Southeastern Conference) throughout the night.
The Tigers (25-15, 10-7) played without starters Zach Watson, Chris Reid and Brock Mathis, who all sat because of injuries. They had one extra player on the bench. Out of necessity, Mainieri started four freshmen.
Henry knew he needed to pitch well.
“After last night's game," Henry said, "I had to come out and be strong."
LSU began its series with Florida with a 16-9 loss on Thursday at Alex Box Stadium.
Henry gave up a double to his first batter. The runner reached third base with one out. Then Henry recorded consecutive strikeouts. He didn’t let anyone else reach base until the third inning. He struck out every batter in the Gators’ lineup at least once.
LSU took a two-run lead before Henry gave up a solo home run in the fourth inning. He responded with another two strikeouts, giving him nine for the game, tying a season-high.
“It's nice,” left fielder Daniel Cabrera said of playing defense when Henry pitches. “Just sit out there. Get to hear the fans scream at the other team. I’m not doing much when he's pitching."
With two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, LSU led 2-1 when freshman Drew Bianco doubled. Bianco, who started in place of Reid, had five career hits at the start of the game. He scored two batters later. LSU added another two runs before the inning ended.
Henry pitched well throughout his start, but his pitch count was climbing when the fifth inning began. Two runners reached base. Then he recorded two more strikeouts — both in full counts — to strand the runners and reach 12 for the game.
It was the most strikeouts for an LSU pitcher in a conference game since Alex Lange fanned 13 against Kentucky four years ago.
“I'm not a strikeout pitcher,” Henry said. “I don't consider myself a strikeout pitcher. I like ground balls."
The NCAA Division I Council voted against a proposal that would have allowed LSU baseball and softball the choice of paying a third assistant coach. Paul Mainieri wanted the new rule to pass.
After LSU scored five runs in the fifth inning, making the score 10-1, Henry jogged back onto the field. Eighteen minutes had passed since his last pitch.
He induced a ground ball for an out, then Mainieri took him out of the game. He had thrown more than 100 pitches for the first time in his career. Cheers rippled through the stadium while Henry strode off the field, stoic.
As Cabrera hit a home run and Todd Peterson pitched the rest of the game, the Tigers snapped a four-game losing streak.
They evened the series after a disheartening loss. And they continued watching Henry turn into one of the best pitchers on the team.
“You feel real confident when Cole Henry is on the mound,” Mainieri said. “That kid is amazing. He's got as bright a future as any pitcher we've had here.”