Hitters struggle to find their footing, Longhorns fall 3-0 to No.1 LSU

Evan Vieth, Senior Sports Reporter

Despite fantastic pitching through eight innings, Texas’ bats fell short in a 3-0 loss to No. 1 LSU on Tuesday night at Disch-Falk field. 

“We’re still a long ways away,” head coach David Pierce said about the offense. “It’s hard to gauge our lack of success versus (LSU) but I thought we hit some balls hard.”

LSU entered Tuesday night riding high, starting the season 6-1, only dropping a game to the Iowa Hawkeyes in last weekend’s Round Rock Classic. LSU’s #1 ranked roster features many of the nation’s best players, including talented sophomore pitcher Thatcher Hurd and a lineup sporting a .990 OPS on the year, which is among the best in the nation.

Redshirt sophomore pitcher LebarronJohnson Jr. gave the Tigers their toughest battle of the season from the mound, striking out a career-high nine batters in five innings pitched, only allowing three hits and no runs in a dominant performance from the Tuesday starter. The right-hander reached 98 MPH with his fastball, and his high-powered slider/splitter combo retired some of the best hitters in the country, including junior center fielder and MLB.com’s projected #1 overall pick Dylan Crews.

“(We gained) a ton of confidence,” Johnson said, “there’s a lot of stuff to work on but to do this against the number one team was definitely a confidence booster.”

Johnson’s performance was followed by fantastic bullpen pitching for three more innings, but unfortunately for Texas, the Tigers struck gold in the top of the ninth. Junior left-hander Chris Stuart entered the ball game following three straight innings of no-hit baseball, but the dutch product walked two-straight batters, leaving two runners on with no outs.

“He didn’t throw strikes today,” Pierce said. “We didn’t make them earn the three runs in the ninth.”

After Stuart struck out junior third baseman Ben Nippolt, Andre Duplantier Jr. replaced him to keep LSU at bay. Tigers’ senior second baseman Gavin Dugas, however, had other plans. The Lousiana product launched a home run to left center-field on Duplantier’s 2-1 pitch, launching the LSU bench off their feet as the ball sailed towards the Texas Tennis Center. Though Duplantier retired the next two batters on strikeouts, the damage was done, and the Longhorn bats weren’t able to respond in the bottom of the ninth.

Though the 9th inning collapse ultimately cost Texas the game, its hitters weren’t able to overcome LSU’s pitchers throughout the contest. The Longhorns recorded just four hits, two of which off the bat of senior center fielder Eric Kennedy, and have now scored just two runs in the past 18 innings of baseball. 

“There’s no moral victories in baseball,” Kennedy said. “Definitely gotta get better defensively and offensively.”

Despite the Texas loss, Johnson has now flashed in two straight starts, which Pierce acknowledged when asked about Johnson’s potential as a weekend starter.

“It’s electric, it’s great stuff,” Pierce said. “That’s Friday night stuff for anybody in the country. For him it’s about repeatability.” 

The Longhorns make their first trip of the season out of Texas on Friday when they fly to California to face Cal State-Fullerton in a weekend series. 

“It’s gonna be good for us to get on the road,” Pierce said. “They’re really good, it’s going to be another challenge.”