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LSU superstar pitcher Paul Skenes got to experience the best of both worlds at Ole Miss’ raucous Swayze field on Friday night in Oxford before a sell-out crowd of 10,683.
The 6-foot-6 junior right-hander from the Los Angeles area is enjoying his tour through the Southeastern Conference before he is selected with one of the highest picks in the first round of the Major League Baseball Draft this summer. Skenes leads the nation with 115 strikeouts and in strikeouts per nine innings at 17.5.
He looked forward to pitching at Ole Miss, which is famous for its bleacher fans conducting beer showers after a Rebel hits a home run.
“I’ve heard a little bit about it, too. I think that’ll be cool,” Skenes said on Wednesday during interviews at LSU. “I don’t think they’ll be throwing a lot of beer, but I think that’ll be cool to see.”
He was right on both counts.
Skenes got to see a suds shower as he allowed a three-run home run to freshman Will Furniss to right-center field in the fourth inning to give the Rebels a 3-2 lead over the No. 1 Tigers. To make the beer even more refreshing, Furniss’s dad is former LSU All-American first baseman Eddy Furniss (1995-98) of Nacogdoches, Texas. Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco was an LSU assistant coach when Furniss played at LSU.
Ole Miss Took Early Lead
The elder Furniss finished his career in 1998 by winning the Dick Howser Award for the nation’s best player. SEC career records he set for home runs (80) and total bases (689) remain 25 years later. He also set career marks for hits (349) and RBIs (103) that are now third and fourth in the SEC record book. Skenes allowed Furniss’ son his third homer of the season.
“He left it over the plate just a little bit too much,” the younger Furniss explained. “Not exactly where he wanted to throw it. And I got my barrel head on it and just barreled it up and out the yard.”
Skenes may have said, “Thank you,” for that analysis, but he was not available after the game.
Paul Skenes Backed Up What He Said
Skenes did back up his pregame words after the Furniss home run, though, as he held Ole Miss hitless the rest of the way. He allowed four hits overall through six innings for the win. Skenes (7-1, 1.97 ERA) struck out 11 and walked three through a season-high 117 pitches. He allowed three of the four hits in the fourth.
LSU improved to 30-7 and 10-5 in the SEC as it tries to keep its No. 1 ranking after a loss to No. 77 Louisiana on Tuesday.
And meanwhile, the suds morphed into dry duds the rest of the night as defending national champion Ole Miss remained in last place in the SEC at 3-13 and 21-17 overall. Amazingly, last year at this time, the Rebels were in nearly the same position at 22-17 overall and 6-10 in the SEC. They finished 14-16 in the league and reached the NCAA postseason with one of the last of 64 slots.
LSU’s Tommy White hit a grand slam in the fifth inning for a 6-3 lead off Ole Miss starter Xavier Rivas (5-3). There was no beer shower after White’s 13th homer of the season.
A reporter asked Bianco why he didn’t replace the lefty Rivas before White, a right-hander, hit as Rivas was at 103 pitches at the time.
“You have a lot of guts asking that question,” Bianco said good-naturedly. “I know it’s frustrating, but there’s a couple things that go through your mind. First, I wanted the left-hander to see the middle of the lineup. Their splits are a lot different. White’s splits are almost 250 points to the good with a left-handed pitcher on the mound. Didn’t look like that tonight, but that’s true. He’s got 10 home runs off right-handed pitchers, now three home runs off left-handed pitchers.
“Also, (Rivas) is your ace. Yeah, I knew he was losing it, but he was losing it in the fifth, and we needed some length. It’s Friday night. So there was a lot of reasons going through my head to leave him out there (with two more games in the series). White obviously made us pay for that. We wanted Rivas through White, but we didn’t.”
Game two will be today at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
Ole Miss projected ace Hunter Elliott (1-0, 3.60 ERA) will start after missing the entire season so far except for one start in the opening weekend because of an elbow injury. The sophomore left-hander is expected to throw about 50 pitches. He was 5-3 with a 2.70 ERA last year with 102 strikeouts. Elliott was 2-0 with 28 strikeouts in Ole Miss’ postseason last year, including a College World Series win over Arkansas. He started the national championship win over Oklahoma and allowed three hits and two runs with six strikeouts through six and two-thirds innings in a no-decision.
LSU will start junior right-hander Ty Floyd (5-0, 3.92 ERA).