So it has come to this.
After all the hyping, hoping, pondering, second-guessing, cursing, finger-pointing, doubting, praising, optimism, pessimism, prayers and scanning the horizon of the Alex Box Stadium outfield for another rally possum sighting, the LSU Tigers march into the denouement of their season more or less where they hoped to be when it began.
It hasn’t always been pretty, impressive or even inspiring. But as the threads of this drama are drawn together, these Tigers have become the baseball embodiment of Gerry DiNardo’s long-ago mandate for his football team.
Play for something significant in November, he would say.
This LSU baseball team, after being counted out, drummed out and left by the side of the road waiting for a tow truck, motors on in May playing for something significant.
And, by the looks of it, in June as well.
Freshman right-hander Eric Walker lost a no-hit bid with two outs in the eighth, his teammat…
After leaking oil all over much of its schedule, LSU, at last, appears to be peaking. Testament to that was the Tigers’ 9-1 victory Saturday over Auburn, arguably LSU’s best performance of the season given the circumstances. LSU got stellar starting pitching from freshman Eric Walker (he toted a no-hitter into the eighth inning), typically airtight defense and, most significantly, bunched big hits off a big-time pitcher in Auburn starter Casey Mize, who came in with the second-best earned run average (1.39) in the Southeastern Conference.
Throw out that mostly meaningless Tuesday night loss to South Alabama (current RPI per WarrenNolan.com: 41) and LSU has won eight of its past nine Southeastern Conference games. A 4-1 Georgia win over Mississippi State (33-18, 17-9 SEC) put LSU (35-17, 18-9) in first place by a half-game in the SEC West as sun set Saturday.
Whatever happens between State and Georgia on Sunday (noon, SECNetwork+) the Tigers know that they will have a chance to win the West next weekend. After all they’ve been through, after all they’ve put themselves through, frankly, it’s all that could be asked.
“I’m proud of where we are,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who could justly feel after this weekend that he’s thumbed a nose at his most caustic critics. “All of our goals are still in front of us. We’re playing for the SEC West championship and maybe the SEC (overall) championship with some help.
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“I told our team this is the fun time of the year. This is why you come to LSU. Every weekend from now on we’re playing for a championship.”
After the trip to Starkville (I hear it’s lovely this time of year) comes a trip to the SEC tournament in Hoover, Alabama. Then it’s on to the NCAA tournament, the four weeks in June by which every LSU baseball season is ultimately judged.
The Tigers went a long way this weekend to ensuring they will have at least one more weekend at The Box by getting to host an NCAA regional. And suddenly LSU — no joke — is in the conversation for one of the precious NCAA top eight national seeds. LSU’s RPI after the Auburn sweep had it bumping up against the RPI top 10. According to the fluid WarrenNolan.com RPI rankings, LSU is 18-13 against top 50 teams. No team exited Saturday’s play with more wins in that category.
It’s heady stuff, but it would be well for the Tigers not to let success go to their heads. Despite being flush with victory they quoted the party line to a man, intent on focusing on Tuesday’s home finale against Northwestern State which they need to win to finish the nonconference schedule above .500 (currently 7-6).
“Yeah, we want to be here,” senior second baseman Cole Freeman said of the postseason. “We know how good we play here. But we just want to take it one game at a time. We start looking at the big picture and thinking down the road we might get away from our game.
“But I think we’re in a good spot right now, especially the way we’re playing. We know we control our own destiny if we take care of our business.”
If LSU needs a cautionary tale, it has to look no farther than the team it just vanquished.
On May 1, Auburn was No. 4 in the Baseball America top 25 after taking two of three at Mississippi State. Then came a sweep at home by last-place Alabama, a loss at UAB and a sweep at LSU. In one week, Auburn skidded from first place in the SEC West and a likely national seed to 32-21, 14-13 in the SEC and trying to make sure it doesn’t spiral out of the NCAA tournament.
1: They are what we thought they were.
It can happen that fast. Either way. The key is to be trending the way LSU is going and not in Auburn’s direction.