Every time Gavin Dugas answered a question about the state of LSU’s team during its 1-8 start to Southeastern Conference play, the junior left fielder maintained his belief LSU had a talented baseball team. He always said the Tigers weren’t as far from success as their record suggested.
So when LSU clinched its series against Kentucky last Saturday night and Dugas was asked if he felt validated, he said, “Absolutely.”
“We have a really good team,” Dugas said, chuckling. “I can’t reiterate how many times I’ve said it, how many times I will say it. I stand by it. I trust these guys. I believe in these guys. I love these guys.”
LSU began to finally turn around against Kentucky. After back-to-back sweeps, the Tigers won a conference series for the first time this season. The two wins moved LSU from last place in the SEC West into a tie for fifth place with Texas A&M. The Tigers have a chance to climb further up the standings this week with a series against No. 5 South Carolina after their game Tuesday night vs. Grambling.
More than anything, the series showed sudden offensive improvement throughout the lineup. For most of the SEC schedule, LSU had four players who consistently produced, making it difficult to mount rallies or hit in clutch situations. As a result, the Tigers lost five games by three runs or less. Statistically, LSU ranked near the bottom of the SEC in several offensive categories during conference play.
But against Kentucky, LSU found another four reliable players — freshman shortstop Jordan Thompson, junior designated hitter Cade Beloso, sophomore catcher Hayden Travinski and junior center fielder Giovanni DiGiacomo, who had missed most of the season with a hamstring strain — to balance the lineup.
“Now all of a sudden, you feel pretty good about at least eight spots in your order,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “That gives you a formidable lineup, and I think we showed that.”
Facing a starter Friday night who carried a 1.91 ERA into the series, the Tigers used an aggressive approach to record 17 hits, exceeding the 16 they had the entire weekend against Vanderbilt.
The next day, LSU scored eight runs. Even in its 13-4 loss Sunday, LSU had nine hits, finishing the series with 37 total.
“I think (hitting coach) Eddie Smith has done a really good job of working with the guys and staying the course,” Mainieri said.
The turnaround wouldn’t have happened without Thompson, Beloso, DiGiacomo and Travinski having their best weekends of the season. Travinski, who was slowed earlier this season by an elbow injury and didn’t have a hit in conference play, went 2 for 7 with four RBIs, tiring late in Game 2 after he started the first two games. DiGiacomo finished 4 for 10.
Perhaps the most encouraging performances came from Beloso and Thompson. Beloso had struggled this year after two straight productive seasons, prompting LSU to tweak his swing a few weeks ago. Mainieri thought Beloso “had been on the verge of turning it around for a couple weeks.” He batted .500 with seven RBIs, raising his average from .209 to .240 in one weekend.
Thompson, a freshman who had steadily improved throughout the season as the starting shortstop, experienced a breakthrough. Thompson hit .667 (8 for 12) with a crucial RBI single in the ninth inning Saturday. A natural pull-side hitter, he also shot multiple balls into the opposite field. Thompson received Co-SEC Freshman of the Week for the second time.
“Now all of a sudden, you feel like you've got good balance in your lineup and the pitcher feels like he has to work really hard to get through that lineup,” Mainieri said. “It showed.”