Photo by Rebecca Warren, LSU
LSU Baseball

LSU is right where it was supposed to be

June 4, 2019
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LSU coach Paul Mainieri stresses that the college baseball season is a long one with many twists and turns.

Without a doubt, his Tigers experienced numerous peaks and valleys since the 2019 campaign began some four months ago. LSU was expected to duel with Vanderbilt for the Southeastern Conference championship.

The Commodores held up their end of the bargain by winning both the SEC regular season and tournament titles. The Tigers finished fifth in the regular season and were knocked out of the SEC tournament in the semifinals by Vanderbilt.

However, after one weekend of the NCAA tournament, Mainieri has his LSU team in the position everyone predicted. The Tigers will be the host team in a super-regional series later this week. If LSU can defeat Florida State, it will advance to the College World Series.

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Now, the Tigers did receive some help in order to be playing at The Box this weekend. No. 1-seed Georgia lost twice at home to the Seminoles which opened the door for LSU to play host to a super-regional series.

Of course, the Tigers needed to take care of business at their home regional. LSU never faced No. 2 seed Arizona State, but it had to deal with a pesky USM squad not once, but twice. The Golden Eagles gave the Tigers all they wanted in the two games.

In the winners’ bracket game Saturday night, LSU found itself in a tie after seven innings. Zack Hess allowed a grand slam home run in the bottom of the seventh which enabled USM to tie the score at 4-4. In the eighth, Saul Garza put the Tigers ahead with a two-run single. LSU would win 8-4.

In the championship round Sunday night, the Tigers began the bottom of the seventh trailing USM 4-3. The Golden Eagles had wiped out a three-run deficit with four runs in the fifth against Eric Walker. This time, Zach Watson delivered the two-run single which put LSU on top 5-4. The Tigers would win 6-4.

LSU did not simply romp through the Baton Rouge Regional although it did have a 14-1 lead after four innings in the regional opener against Stony Brook, which had no resemblance to the 2012 team which pulled an upset in the super-regionals at The Box.

There were only three times in the regular season that the Tigers went 3-0 on a weekend – not once during the last nine weeks of the SEC schedule. But, LSU did put together three straight victories this past weekend due to solid hitting, pitching and defense.

The Tigers had a .330 batting average in the three games. Six players batted higher than .350 – Garza (.500, 6-for-12), Brandt Broussard (.429. 6-for-14), Josh Smith (.400, 4-for-10), Cade Beloso (.375, 3-for-8), Daniel Cabrera (.364, 4-for-11) and Antoine Duplantis (.357, 5-for-14).

Watson only had three hits, but he drove in seven runs. Two of those hits were home runs. Duplantis did not have a great tournament, but he had the biggest hit as regards the record book. Duplantis’ first-inning single Sunday made him LSU’s all-time hits leader – ahead of Eddy Furniss.

The Baton Rouge Regional was high scoring, but not because of the Tigers’ pitching. LSU’s team ERA was a respectable 3.33. Freshman Landon Marceaux gave up two runs and seven hits in five innings against Stony Brook. Freshman Cole Henry threw five scoreless innings in five innings against USM on Saturday.

Walker was quite effective as a starter for four innings against the Golden Eagles on Sunday when he gave up one run and one hit. But, Walker ran into trouble in the fifth as USM rallied to take the lead.

The Tigers bullpen had to account for 12.1 innings during the regional. Eight pitchers were used as relievers with the only runs allowed coming on a solo homer by Stony Brook’s Dylan Resk off Ma’Khail Hilliard and USM’s Matthew Guidry’s grand slam off Hess.

The LSU defense was nearly flawless. The Tigers made just two errors – one by Smith at shortstop and one by pitcher Trent Vietmeier on an errant pickoff throw.

Since ending a five-game losing streak in the finale of the series at Arkansas, LSU has won 10 of 13 games. Its three defeats came against Auburn, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt – all of whom will also be participating in super-regional series this weekend.

Mainieri has settled on a lineup during this recent stretch – not much different from the one he identified before the season started. Garza is the catcher. He has been the team’s hottest hitter for a month. Broussard and Hal Hughes are at second base and third base, respectively. Beloso is the DH.

The two freshmen – Marceaux and Henry – have moved to the top of the rotation. The veteran Walker is the No. 3 starter. Hess is the most feared hurler in a deep bullpen, which includes Devin Fontenot, Todd Peterson, Matthew Beck, Hilliard and Vietmeier.

Mainieri had his team playing close to its best last weekend in the regional tournament. The Tigers need to take it up a step when Florida State and its retiring coach Mike Martin visit The Box later this week. If LSU shows improvement, it will be heading for Omaha just as everyone had predicted in January.  

Tags: Baseball, LSU
 
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