HOOVER, Ala. — LSU isn’t quite partying like it’s 1999, but the year is close enough — and it’s certainly felt like a party.
Heading into Saturday’s Southeastern Conference tournament semifinal game, the Tigers scoring output in their past four games has been 11, 11, 10 and 10 runs, marking the first time since the 2000 season LSU has scored double digits in four consecutive games against SEC opponents.
In those games, LSU has outscored its opponents by a combined total of 42-15, indiscriminately steamrolling whoever was in its way.
LSU knocked around Mississippi State’s top two bullpen arms back-to-back to secure a share of the SEC regular- season title.
It drilled Missouri left-hander T.J. Sikkema, who carried a .169 opponent’s batting average into Wednesday’s SEC tournament opener, to the tune of six runs on eight hits.
Finally, it hammered the SEC pitcher of the year, Kentucky’s Sean Hjelle, for 10 runs on 11 hits to thump the Wildcats by run rule Thursday.
“(Thursday) night was probably one of the most fun games,” said sophomore outfielder Antoine Duplantis, who went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles in LSU’s 10-0 win against Kentucky. “I don’t know if it was the atmosphere or it was a little bit of everything, but that was one of the most fun games we’ve had all year.”
The LSU lineup caught its share of barbs from observers at times this season.
It had shown flashes of brilliance like this before this season — scoring 22 runs in its SEC opener, 15 against Ole Miss and delivering thundering offensive rallies in comeback wins against Florida and Arkansas. But it had also disappointed for stretches.
LSU was shut out in back-to-back series openers in March, albeit against a few of the league’s top pitchers in Florida’s Alex Faedo and Texas A&M’s Brigham Hill. The Tigers sometimes couldn’t find the big hit in big situations early in the year as well, letting rallies fizzle with runners in scoring position.
“Right now, nobody seems like an easy out,” Duplantis said. “Everybody is putting together good at-bats and hitting balls hard. We’re all buying into what type of players we are, and we’re starting to figure it out.”
The reasons for this offensive renaissance are different depending on who you ask, but all seem to have merit.
“I think (hitting coach) Micah Gibbs deserves an awful lot of credit for that,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “His style of coaching resonates with the kids, they believe in him and they trust him.”
One of Gibbs’ tenets — and this aligns with Mainieri’s philosophy — is aggressiveness.
Rather than sitting back and waiting for the right pitch to drive, LSU’s hitters are forcing the issue, jumping on good pitches early in at-bats to avoid being put in a compromising count against pitchers with strikeout stuff.
For example: In Thursday’s 10-0 win against Kentucky, seven of LSU’s 12 hits came on the first, second or third pitch of the at-bat.
“You don’t get too many hits if you don’t swing the bat,” Duplantis said. “You’ve got to go up there swinging. Honestly, I think that’s what we were not doing well when we weren’t hitting good — not being aggressive on the pitches we should be aggressive on.
“We were missing those fastballs, getting those pitchers ahead in the count and letting them have those easy at- bats. When they get ahead 0-2, they can do whatever they want. We’re being aggressive early in the count and not missing our pitches, that’s the biggest thing.”
HOOVER, Ala. — The sound you heard coming from these parts Thursday night was the lock slamm…
LSU has also done a great job turning its lineup over. One of the words used by Mississippi State coach Andy Cannizzaro last week to describe the LSU lineup was “relentless” because pitchers could not rest against a weak part of the order.
“Right now, it’s one-through-nine, all clicking on the same page,” senior second baseman Cole Freeman said. “If we need a big hit, it doesn’t matter. There’s not one person in the lineup that we’d rather over the other just because of how good everybody is clicking right now.
“It’s pretty exciting being in the dugout and watching that.”
Whatever the reason, LSU is trying to enjoy its surge as it seeks its 10th consecutive win — one that would put it into the tournament championship game — while at the same time realizing that it can’t count on 10 runs every game.
“We’re trying to ride this wave,” senior shortstop Kramer Robertson said. “I still think our best baseball is in front of us. I don’t think we’ve peaked by any means yet. We’re playing really well right now, and we want to keep this going.
“We’ve got something special going and we’re coming down to the end. You’ve got to cherish every moment. But stay focused, baseball’s a humbling game.”