BATON ROUGE, La. – Ma’Khail Hilliard became the Purple and Gold pitching staff’s saving grace, when the fifth-year senior earned the Friday night starting role, during LSU’s sweep over Mississippi State, but the Central native’s rise on the pitching staff started when Hilliard sat down at Minute Made Park.

“We didn’t actually pitch him in Houston. That was not for any other reason other than we were planning on using him on Friday out of the pen, and then, it just didn’t materialize. Then, the next two games, just the way they transpired, it just didn’t work. How he handled that, I think showed his maturity and got him going, and he’s been great ever since then,” head coach Jay Johnson recalled.

Hilliard stabilized the Bayou Bengals Achilles heel: its bullpen. The Tigers now have eight relief pitches with an ERA less than 3.5.

The ace entered this week with an undefeated record, 38 strikeouts in 40 innings of work and a 3.83 ERA, and Hilliard’s impact on the mound showed this past weekend, when LSU earned its first home SEC series sweep in 2022.

“It’s definitely helping. Trust me, nobody more than me wants to get to the point where you’re getting 6 to 7.1 out of all three guys. I definitely want that because it simplifies the game, but that’s just not where we’re at. It’s kind of fun what those guys are doing as a team, and like that they’re not always in the same order. They’re picking each other up, and one guy bailed one guy out the day before. It happened this weekend, and then it was the exact opposite the next day, which was pretty cool.,” Johnson added.

LSU will face UNO Tuesday night, but Hilliard will take the mound once again this weekend against a top-25 team: Georgia.

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