LSU Defeats Southern Miss to Advance to Championship Round

BATON ROUGE — The pitcher’s duel eventually became a slugfest.

The opening day, and night, at the Baton Rouge Regional was like watching extended batting practice sessions as both LSU and Southern Miss posted football scores as the two clubs combined for 32 runs in victories on Friday.

Hits, much less runs, were sparse to begin the winner’s bracket game between the two that was until the sixth inning rolled around. The final four innings of Saturday’s contest, the two teams combined to plate 11 runs. 

The late offensive fireworks though favored the host team as LSU defeated Southern Miss 8-4 and advanced to Sunday’s championship round. LSU will face the winner of Arizona State-Southern Miss. First pitch is set for 8 p.m. and Eric Walker will get the start for the Tigers.

“Everybody knew how pivotal the winner’s bracket game is,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “Our guys were into it. They gave it everything they had tonight. The whole game, they played phenomenal.”

LSU (39-24) got on the board first in the top of the second as designated hitter Cade Beloso hit a two-out solo home run to right field. The Tigers though wouldn’t plate another run until the sixth even though they did manage to put runners on the base paths. LSU hit into inning-ending double plays in the first, third and fourth innings. 

That lone run seemed to be plenty as LSU’s Cole Henry was dealing. 

The freshman, who was making only his second start since being sidelined for a month due to arm soreness, threw five shutout innings as Henry gave up only two hits while striking out six Southern Miss hitters.

“I’m sure a lot of people wondered why I was pitching Henry,” Mainieri said. “Now you all know. I can tell you two months ago I was thinking ‘that’s the guy I’m going to pitch in the winner’s bracket of a regional.’”

LSU broke the game open in the sixth inning.

Brandt Broussard led off the frame with a double to right centerfield and Broussard advanced to third on a groundout by Antoine Duplantis. Daniel Cabrera was then hit by a pitch to give LSU runners on the corners.

Beloso would bring home Broussard on a sacrifice fly to left field.

Zach Watson would then step to the plate and hit his second home run in as many days — as he took a pitch from Sean Tweedy into the left field landing.

Southern Miss (39-20) had a chance in the bottom of the sixth.

Todd Peterson, in relief of Henry, struck out the lead off hitter but then walked the Golden Eagles leading slugger Matt Waller (team-high 22 home runs) and then gave up a single to center field to Bryant Bowen. 

Peterson though got out of the jam by getting Cole Donaldson to fly out and striking out Fred Franklin. 

Peterson would not be as fortunate in the seventh as he walked lead off hitter Danny Lynch, then hit the next two batters to load the bases with no outs. 

LSU turned to Zack Hess to get them out of the jam but the hard-throwing righty gave up a grand slam to Matthew Guidry which tied the game. Hess though would strike out the next two hitters to end the inning.

“I was hoping the offense would get me a lead again,” Hess said on what he was thinking after giving up the slam. “Because I didn’t want the people of Baton Rouge to burn my house down tonight.”

In the top of the eighth, LSU made sure no one would be committing arson.

Cabrera led off with a double to the wall in centerfield and was joined on the base paths after Beloso was hit in the foot by a pitch. Watson then loaded the bases as he drew a walk.

Saul Garza then stepped in the batter’s box and hit a single up the middle that brought home Cabrera and Beloso. Chris Reid then hit a single into right field that scored Garza — who had advanced to second when Watson was thrown out trying to reach third base.

After tying Eddie Furniss for the all-time hits record in program history on Friday, former Lafayette High star Duplantis went 0-for-4 on Saturday. Duplantis did elicit cheers from the home crowd when he stole second base in the top of ninth after being denied his fifth at-bat due to an intentional walk. 

Right after Duplantis was walked, Cabrera was then intentionally walked to load the bases and Smith would score on a wild pitch giving the Tigers an insurance run.

Hess would pick up the win after giving up one run on two hits while striking out four in three innings of work. 

Now the Tigers look to wrap up a regional championship on Sunday and Hess for one believes the team is more than ready to live up to those title expectations.

“I think what you’re starting to see now is guys starting to fulfill their potential,” Hess said. “And we’re starting to play like a team.”