Hilliard blanks Bulldogs

{{tncms-inline content="<p class="p1" style="text-align: center;"><span class="s1"><strong>FINAL | LSU </strong></span><span class="s1"><strong>4, </strong></span><span class="s1"><strong>Mississippi St. </strong></span><span class="s1"><strong>0</strong></span></p> <p class="p2" style="text-align: center;"> </p>" id="ca5bdd8a-d429-4711-8966-1d98942069db" style-type="quote" title="Pull Quote" type="relcontent"}}

<p class="p1">BATON ROUGE — LSU isn’t doing many of the “little” things to win games these days, and the Tigers’ near-feeble attempts at “small ball” Saturday were almost comical.

<p class="p3">But there’s still something to be said for good pitching and a couple of timely home runs.

<p class="p3">The Tigers rode freshman right-hander Ma’Khail Hilliard’s Houdini instincts for six strong innings and got some late insurance with home runs by Daniel Cabrera and Zach Watson to beat Mississippi State 4-0 in the rubber match of the Southeastern Conference series.

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<p class="p3">“Hilliard was brilliant,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Got out of a lot jams not all of his own doing. … We had three big swings. We did just enough. We’ll take the win, take the series win.”

<p class="p3">The Tigers (18-11, 5-4 SEC) were 0-for-3 getting down sacrifice bunts — and a fourth had to be scrapped when Austin Bain was picked off second base shortly after doubling in LSU’s first run in the second inning with no outs. The pickoff came after Cabrera pulled back on an attempted bunt.

<p class="p3">All of the small-ball fiascoes sabotaged the Tigers’ efforts to give Hilliard rare breathing room as he nursed that 1-0 lead through six innings.

<p class="p3">But Cabrera had better luck swinging away when he hit a towering two-run homer to extend the Tigers’ lead to 3-0 in the seventh and Watson added a solo shot in the eighth.

<p class="p3">“What a relief that was; 1-0 games are hard to win,” Mainieri said. “I felt a lot better with at 3-0 and then Watson hit the solo home run.”

<p class="p3">None of the early struggles fazed Hilliard (6-1), who lost a 1-0 complete-game heartbreaker in his last start against Vanderbilt, but lowered his ERA to an SEC-best 0.76 while allowing three hits.

<p class="p3">Devin Fontenot pitched the seventh and Nick Bush the final two innings for the Tigers’ second combined shutout of the season.

<p class="p3">“I don’t even think of (Hilliard) as being young anymore,” Mainieri said. “He’s been doing this all year. He’s got unflappable confidence. Nothing is too big for him.

<p class="p3">“He’s just got ‘it.’ ”

<p class="p3">He needed it — early and late.

<p class="p3">The Bulldogs (14-15, 2-7) got the game’s first two batters on via a walk followed by an error on Bain at second base that likely would have been a double play. They eventually reached second and third, but Hilliard struck out two of the next three batters and got a harmless ground ball to end the inning.

<p class="p3">Hilliard walked calmly off the mound while Bain hugged him hard.

<p class="p3">“That’s’ what winners do,” Mainieri said. “What non-winners do is somebody makes an error, then they give up a hit and they go in and blame their teammates for it. Ma’Khail just has the knack to raise his game.”

<p class="p3">Hilliard cruised until State loaded the bases in the sixth on a two-out double, a walk and a hit batsman. But with the score 1-0, he worked around a 2-0 count and got a called third strike to end the threat. 

<p class="p3">It was the last of his career-high nine strike outs, and the famously emotionless Hilliard hinted at a fist pump on the way to the dugout.

<p class="p3">“I felt like I wasn’t getting the calls and I didn’t think I hit that guy,” Hilliard said. “It was getting a little frustrating, But after I got that last strike, it felt amazing.”

<p class="p1" style="text-align: center;"><span class="s1"><strong>FINAL | LSU </strong></span><span class="s1"><strong>4, </strong></span><span class="s1"><strong>Mississippi St. </strong></span><span class="s1"><strong>0</strong></span>

<p class="p2" style="text-align: center;"> 

<p class="p2"><span class="s1"><strong>Tuesday </strong></span><strong>vs. Nicholls St., </strong><strong>6:30 p.m.</strong>

      af3abc70-20e3-11e8-b560-a72bd87ee8a32018-03-06T02:11:00ZSummerfield vs. Pleasant HillAP Photo/Lake Charles American Press, Kirk MechePleasant Hill’s Christopher Scott (2) lays the ball up against Summerfield during the LHSAA Marsh Madness Class C semi-final at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles, Louisiana on Monday, March 5, 2018. ””

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