HOOVER, Ala. — The LSU Tigers’ path to yet another Southeastern Conference tournament title game has been a thunder road, with LSU’s bash brothers in arms elbowing aside the competition in three straight games.
In all, the Tigers have scored 29 runs and twice run-ruled teams — Vanderbilt on Wednesday, Arkansas here Saturday — by impressive 11-1 final scores.
But look past the “11” and consider for a moment the “1.”
LSU’s pitching has been the equal of its hitting during this torrid seven-game run that has vaulted the Tigers from a maybe NCAA regional host to suddenly being a loud voice in the conversation for a top-eight national seed.
The 85 runs LSU has scored in these past seven games are impossible to ignore. But so is the fact that the Tigers haven’t been winning these games in slugfest fashion. There are no 10-8 or even 7-6 scores on this ledger.
LSU has surrendered just eight runs in its past seven games, adding weight to The Streak by virtue of the fact the Tigers are a stunning plus-77 in combined margin of victory.
“Our pitchers are competitors,” said catcher Kade Scivicque, who thumped a homer and had three RBIs in doing his bit for the battery. “They’re in command of all their pitches and are throwing them for strikes.”
Actually, it’s been that way all year for LSU pitching. The Tigers’ season ERA is a stout 2.46 (and 1.26 during The Streak). LSU has hovered in the vicinity of a 2.50 ERA much of the campaign, even when the Tigers bats spent weeks chilled by the polar vortex.
“Even when we weren’t hitting, our pitchers were still pitching tremendously,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, “even when they knew they didn’t have any latitude to make mistakes. Now that we’re scoring runs, they’re continuing to pitch great.
“It’s great not feeling if you have one bad pitch, it’s going to cost you the game. Everyone’s really doing their job. That’s what you hope for.”
Freshman Jared Poché started and won Wednesday against Vanderbilt, while ace Aaron Nola brushed past Arkansas 7-2 on Thursday. That’s as expected since the two have combined for 19 of LSU’s 43 wins this season.
The way Saturday starter Kyle Bouman has pitched his past two outings was not part of the script. Bouman clipped the wires on a couple of time bombs of his own creation during an 8-1 win at Auburn a week earlier. But this Saturday, he was effective in a Nola/Poché kind of way as he started the game with five hitless innings.
Bouman has been on a long and winding road to get to this point. Banished from the team at Wichita State after a DUI charge, he spent a year in junior college before LSU coaches stumbled across him in summer league ball and made him a late addition to the squad in July.
He showed promise early but sprained an ankle stepping on a ball in practice shortly after his first SEC start. That left him and the Sunday slot in LSU’s pitching rotation in limbo until recently.
Now Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn could be sizing him up for the start in LSU’s NCAA regional opener this week that certainly now will be played at Alex Box Stadium.
“If he says so,” said Bouman, a man good at economizing his words as well as his pitches, “that would be awesome.”
The Tigers have been economical in their pitcher usage here so far. LSU has employed five relievers, but none has been taxed so much that they won’t be available Sunday against Florida. The only arms on the shelf are the three tournament starters.
Any team that gets to the final here is trying to assemble enough fragmented pieces of its pitching staff to put together a workable, winning whole. Alden Cartwright (1-1, 2.12 ERA) gets plugged in to another stopgap start for LSU, which had to piece together many an SEC series final game until Bouman rebounded. But he’ll have plenty of backup and a quick hook from Mainieri if things go awry.
But, chances are, they won’t get too out of hand. Not for an LSU pitching staff that the Tigers’ hot hitters are lucky they don’t have to face.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv