LSU Texas Baseball

LSU's Collier Cranford lays down a bunt against Texas during the seventh inning of the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic game Frida in Houston. 

HOUSTON — As LSU trailed by one run on Friday night, Daniel Cabrera walked to the plate in the sixth inning. The junior right fielder had struck out his previous at-bat against Texas pitcher Bryce Elder. He looked for an off-speed pitch.

Elder hung his first offering over the plate. Cabrera turned on it, whipping his bat through the middle of the strike zone. LSU had squandered an early lead, and three innings had passed without a hit. The ball sped out of Minute Maid Park. It landed in the right field bleachers.

Cabrera knew he hit the two-run homer the moment he made contact. He wiped the front of his jersey when he stepped on home plate, and sophomore first baseman Cade Beloso shoved his chest. LSU mobbed Cabrera near the dugout.

“We've got to finish the game,” Cabrera said.

With LSU leading by one run, sophomore Jaden Hill threw three scoreless innings. He pumped 97 mph fastballs and dropped 84 mph sliders, nodding his head when he walked off the mound. He didn’t allow a hit.

As Hill completed the save, No. 19 LSU beat Texas 4-3 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic. The No. 16 Longhorns lost for the first time this season while LSU won its fourth straight game.

“Jaden shut the door on them,” Cabrera said.

The night before the game, Hill and starting pitcher Cole Henry talked in their shared hotel room. Knowing LSU (7-3) planned to use them against Texas (9-1), Hill asked Henry for seven innings.

“I'll get you the rest,” Hill said.

After allowing a leadoff single, Henry struck out five straight batters, cruising through the top of Texas’ lineup. He walked onto the mound in the third inning protecting a 2-0 lead.

But Henry surrendered a leadoff home run to catcher DJ Petrinsky. Once Texas cut the lead in half, Henry lost command of his fastball. He walked the next batter. Texas loaded the bases with one out.

Henry allowed another run before he ended the inning. Texas had tied the game, erasing LSU’s early lead. Henry walked off the field tugging at his cap.

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Inside the dugout, Henry spoke with coach Paul Mainieri. The sophomore right-hander had thrown 35 pitches during the inning, more than doubling his pitch count. A reliever waited in the bullpen. Mainieri felt concerned. He almost pulled Henry from the game.

“I'll let you go back out there,” Mainieri said, “but let's do one more.”

Though Henry hit the leadoff batter and an unearned run scored, Henry regained his command of the strike zone, retiring nine straight batters after Texas took the lead.

Henry kept LSU in the game, but the Tigers struggled against Elder. The junior baffled LSU last season. He struck out the side in the fourth inning. Three scoreless frames passed before Cabrera stepped into the batter’s box.

With one out and a runner on first, Cabrera knew Texas wanted to turn a double play. But Cabrera had found his rhythm. He entered the round-robin tournament with five hits over three games. Then Cabrera mashed his second home run of the season.

“I've seen him become more and more of a leader each passing day,” Mainieri said. “But the best way he can lead is by hitting balls into the seats.”

After LSU retook the lead, Hill exited the bullpen behind right field-center field. Henry had completed six innings with 10 strikeouts. Hill jogged onto the mound.

Inside the major league stadium, Hill didn’t feel overwhelmed. He had played here before, he said — on the video game MLB The Show.

Hill’s first pitch touched 97 mph. He struck out the side in the seventh inning. After Texas senior Duke Ellis stole second base with one out in the eighth, Hill struck out the next two batters. He yelled as he walked toward the dugout.

“I shortchanged him a little bit,” Henry said. “He did his job. He was electric.”

When Cabrera caught the final out, he flexed his left arm and tossed the ball into the stands. Henry met Hill near the first base line and patted his chest. The three players joined the celebratory handshake line forming behind the mound. On Friday night, they rescued LSU from defeat.

Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com