An Auburn 3-pointer helped send the LSU basketball team home from Nashville and the Southeastern Conference tournament, possibly with a side trip to Dayton for an NCAA tournament play-in game.
A passed ball in Gainesville, Florida, doomed the softball team to its first loss of the season.
By Friday, night, with apologies to the gymnastics team, which was in Shreveport for a pre-SEC championships muscle limbering against Centenary and New Hampshire, saving this 13th of March was up to the LSU baseball team.
The Tigers rode a 16-1 nonconference start all the way to the top of the Baseball America poll, but this weekend’s SEC opening series against Ole Miss would be no Centenary and New Hampshire.
The Rebels aren’t quite the team that stormed Omaha, Nebraska, last year, but with left-handed ace Christian Trent on the mound, they were more than capable of making LSU’s day perfectly miserable.
Though they’d only stumbled once in a nothing-went-right loss to Nicholls State, there was still quite a bit of mystery shrouding this baseball squad entering Friday night’s opener.
Would the young pitching hold up to SEC bats? Would the LSU bats be able to win the battle against Trent, the St. Paul’s grad who entered the game 12-0 in his college career? Could the Tigers defense stop doing its Italian army impression long enough to make some meaningful outs?
It was a tussle and a scrap and there were more than a couple of dances with drama for the home team. But eventually the Tigers prevailed, taking the Rebels’ best shots and beating them back for a 6-4 victory.
It’s only one SEC game. Twenty-nine more to go. But momentum is a tangible thing in sports. So is confidence. And Friday’s win was like little booster shots of both to a clearly talented but young LSU baseball squad still trying to figure out who it is and what it can possibly be.
Speaking of youth, what passes for a veteran on this Tigers pitching staff is sophomore Jared Poché. Last season LSU took two of three from Ole Miss in Oxford, but Poché lost the middle game to Trent.
Freshman Alex Lange (4-0, 1.57 earned run average), who pitches for LSU in game two at 7 p.m. Saturday, is probably the Tigers’ most talented starter. But Poche is the one with the chops and the moxie to be the Friday night starter, the one LSU trusted to face Ole Miss’ best.
Poché only lasted five innings plus a batter, allowing two runs and six hits, but he ran his record to 5-0 at Trent’s expense (he gave up six runs, four earned, in seven) before giving way to a chorus line of relievers. As a result, expect Poché to still be in the anchor role when the Tigers go to Arkansas next week.
The relief work of closer Jesse Stallings was again deadly, as he struck out a pair in the ninth to capture his eighth save so early in the season. Offensively the Tigers were the match of the Rebels, with Alex Bregman’s increasingly hot bat launching a home run over the fence in left center with one out in the sixth.
It might not have been a ball that would have left the yard with the old ball, but so what? The Tigers reached double-digit hits, befitting of their .322 team average entering the series, with Conner Hale matching his career best with three in the contest.
It’s just one game, and just one day, a day this Tigers team saved for the rest of the athletic program. More than that, it’s a big one to build on.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.