How good is Kim Mulkey’s winning touch?
Kramer Robertson’s mom — oh yes, she also happens to be LSU’s new women’s basketball coach — threw out the first pitch Saturday night before the Tigers’ baseball series finale against Arkansas.
Two and a half hours later — hey, presto! — LSU had a 5-4 win over the No. 1-ranked Razorbacks to salvage something from their three-game set.
“Kim Mulkey’s amazing,” baseball coach Paul Mainieri said with a weary smile. “She’s already undefeated at LSU. We need her to throw out the first pitch at every game.”
Nice thought, but Mulkey might be a little busy building a roster and being enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for all that.
No, the baseball Tigers are on their own. They’ve dug themselves quite a hole NCAA tournament-wise – and perhaps even SEC tournament wise – and are going to have to dig themselves out of it sans the help of any good luck charms.
For the record, the rally possum did not make an appearance during this Arkansas series, either.
After two lopsided losses to the Razorbacks, the win in Saturday night’s game (moved up about 19½ because of a soggy Sunday weather forecast) could be the start of some better days for the Tigers.
They had better be better. Because at 26-17 and 7-14 in Southeastern Conference play, the Tigers must start winning at a better clip to have any postseason ambitions. They certainly have to start winning more than one of every three conference games. A .333 average may be perfectly acceptable for a second baseman or left fielder, but it won’t cut it for an LSU team at large.
LSU’s hopes might have been scuttled had not Devin Fontenot gotten those three outs before Arkansas got more than three runs in the top of the ninth inning down 5-1. He had just enough rope to hang on.
The Tigers must hope that proves to be a metaphor for them all.
“This was a critical win,” Mainieri said, “no question. If somehow we find a way to win three (remaining SEC) series that gives us (at least) 13 wins. If we can do some damage in Hoover, that leaves it up to the committee with our RPI and being good enough to win half the series in our league.
“But it’s a tough league, man.”
Brutally tough. Six of LSU’s first seven SEC series have, unbelievably, come against teams ranked in the top 10 at the time in one poll or another. The other was a series win at Kentucky. Also ranked. Not surprisingly, the website WarrenNolan.com had LSU with the nation’s No. 1 strength of schedule Sunday morning and a very respectable No. 24 RPI overall.
RPI and SOS aren’t going to get LSU into the NCAA tournament without some more SEC wins. Mainieri and his Tigers and Kim Mulkey all know that.
The Tigers have 12 games left on a schedule that, finally, mercifully, lightens up a little. But only to a degree. There’s Tuesday’s game with Southern (Warren Nolan RPI: 275), followed by three games at Auburn (57), a home game with Louisiana’s highest-rated team, Louisiana Tech (20), three more home games with Alabama (26) and a regular-season wrap up series at Texas A&M (80).
For most schools in most leagues, the RPI of those last three conference opponents would represent the cream of their respective conferences. The SEC offers no such quarter. There’s no place to hide, especially on the road at Auburn and A&M. And Auburn just took a three-game series on the road at Georgia, making LSU’s immediate task appear even harder.
Say what you will about these Tigers compared to the great LSU teams of the past, but also say this: they haven’t given up. They didn’t when they were down 16-3 after six innings in Saturdays’ first game before outscoring Arkansas 6-1 over the final three innings of a 17-10 loss, momentum LSU carried into the nightcap. They won’t give up now.
“It shows we haven’t stopped fighting,” said Cade Doughty, who hit a three-run home run Saturday night and made a brilliant sliding grab in the Arkansas bullpen in the eighth to highlight the victory.
LSU needs more of that. Famous moms and outfield roaming marsupials aren’t going to get it done. The dirt is piled up ready to be kicked on the Tigers’ grave for 2021. It’s up to them to push it away.