HOOVER, Ala. — It took a trip home, but Caleb Gilbert may have answered a three-year-long question for the LSU baseball program Saturday.
After Gilbert’s glowing performance in the Tigers’ 1-0 loss to Florida in the Southeastern Conference semifinals, LSU coach Paul Mainieri had unparalleled praise for the true freshman from Hoover who permitted just one run on five hits in 5.2 innings.
“He looked tremendous. He got out of a couple jams and made some big pitches,” Mainieri said. “We turned some double plays behind him. He just did a tremendous job. I think he’s pretty much solidified his status as a third starter for us.”
The start was just Gilbert’s fourth of the season. He began the year as the Tigers’ closer, but after late-inning struggles coincided with “the book” getting out John Valek III’s crafty, soft-throwing style at the back of the rotation, Gilbert transitioned to a more familiar role starting.
Pitching Saturday less than two miles from his high school and in front of family and friends, Gilbert remained stoic. Mainieri lauded the composure with which he approached the biggest start of his life.
“I was trying to stay even-keeled all day, especially during the game,” Gilbert said. “As far as that goes, it went well, just staying calm.”
Mainieri added: “Going forward, I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
India returns, thwarts Tigers
After absorbing a knee to the head during a 6-3 double play in the second inning, Florida freshman third baseman Jonathan India remained seated on the field, the training staff rushing to his aid.
He recovered quick enough to lace an RBI double just inside the left-field foul line off Gilbert in the sixth, driving in the only run of the game.
While Gilbert was removed and Doug Norman took his warmup tosses, the training staff again tended to India, who remained in the game for all nine innings.
Mainieri ready to rid Florida
Speaking after his fifth meeting with the regular season’s consensus No. 1 team in the country in the last ten days, Mainieri looked spent.
Felt it, too.
“I feel like (Muhammad) Ali and (Joe) Frazier going 15 rounds,” Mainieri said. “I’m ready to play somebody new, to be honest with you. We’ve had five great games with Florida. We were able to win three of them … They played a great game (Saturday). We did too. The margin of difference between these two teams is razor-thin.”
Spanning nearly 16 hours and 48 innings, LSU managed a 3-2 record against the Gators, including a series win to end the regular season at Alex Box Stadium.
“I’m really impressed with LSU,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “They have gotten so much better through the course of the year. Their offense is really clicking right now. To be able to shut them out is hard to do in any year, especially this year. They are competitive.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome.