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Senior Pitcher Ma'Khail Hilliard Stepping Up At Right Time for LSU Baseball

Hilliard enjoying most success of collegiate career as Tigers make postseason push

Ma'Khail Hilliard knew that final game in Alex Box Stadium would mean a great deal to him. The senior has been through the ultimate highs and lows throughout his career at LSU.

He started as a freshman, becoming one of the more exciting young pitchers in the SEC with one of the toughest to hit curveballs in the conference. His next two seasons were highlighted by injury and inconsistency that left him as a bullpen reliever. It was a role Hilliard tried to adjust to as best he could but struggled.

Even during the early stages of his senior season this year, Hilliard's confidence wasn't there for many of his outings. But a midweek start against Grambling back on April 27 started to turn the tide on his season and in the last month, LSU is seeing that 2018 freshman version of Hilliard. It's been one of the best stories of the season for the Tigers and is far from over. 

"I feel like I have to go out there and pitch with a chip on my shoulder," Hilliard said. "I have something to prove everytime I step on the mound."

Since being inserted as a weekend starter against Arkansas, Hilliard is boasting a 2.60 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 17.1 innings pitched. After Jaden Hill went down, LSU tried a number of different guys in that third starting role but none were more effective than the senior veteran.

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Coach Paul Mainieri has said in recent weeks how he doesn't like to think about where this team would be without Hilliard's contributions in recent weeks. Mainieri had Hilliard in the back of his mind as a potential starter after Hill went down and after the freshman arms the team used didn't work out, he thought giving Hilliard a midweek start would be a good option.

He fired three shutout innings against Grambling with five strikeouts and hasn't looked back since. The Tigers have won two critical games over Arkansas and Alabama with Hilliard on the mound and will need another top notch performance either this weekend against Texas A&M or in the first game of the SEC Tournament on Tuesday. 

"I always thought Ma'Khail had a good head on his shoulders," Mainieri said. "He's such a polite young man, his teammates love him, I've always thought the world of him and I've always rooted for him. Now that he's doing well, it's just been a great story and I just wanna see the kid go out in a blaze of glory. It just warms my heart to see him doing well."

LSU ace Landon Marceaux has been along side Hilliard for much of his career in Baton Rouge and has seen the kind of struggles he's gone through over the few seasons to get back to this point. 

"I'm really proud of Ma'Khail and how far he's come," Marceaux said. "He was a freshman All-American and you don't get that for no reason. He's a really good starting pitcher in the SEC and I think over the last three weeks he's proving that. He wanted to have a bigger role for this team and having him go on Sunday's for us, it really gives us a chance."