LSU (55-9) had a chance to finish off the Baton Rouge Regional on Sunday night against UL-Lafayette in Alex Box Stadium. They did just that with a 5-1 victory over the Cajuns. Entering the game, there were numerous questions about different aspects of LSU's game because of how the Tigers had looked in their previous two games.
On Friday, poor pitching performances (with the exception of Kurt McCune) plagued the Tigers as they allowed Jackson State to hang around and draw within striking distance at the end of the game due to a lack of command in the strike zone. Offense was not a problem for the Tigers in this game as they defeated Jackson State by a score of 11-7.
Saturday's game against Sam Houston State presented arguably the most uncharacteristic LSU squad of the 2013 season. After leading the SEC in fielding percentage, most fans would never assume that they would see the Bayou Bengals make three errors in one inning (four total), let alone on the same side of the infield.
However, this, coupled with a shaky start by sophomore Aaron Nola, resulted in the Bearkats producing a five-run first inning. Something that had to be overcome late in the game for LSU to rally to victory in the eighth inning.
Sunday night was a totally different story in every facet of the game of baseball for the Tigers.
It all started on the mound for LSU. Senior Brent Bonvillain was named the starter for the Tigers just hours before LSU was set to take on the Cajuns. Just as he did last weekend in a crucial SEC Championship game against then No. 1 Vanderbilt, Bonvillain showed guts and moxy in perhaps the most important game of the weekend for LSU.
From the first pitch on, it was evident what the approach of the veteran left-hander was going to be tonight. The key for him was to live around the strike zone and allow his defense to work behind him.
Bonvillain certainly did that as he went 5.1 innings, allowing three hits with one unearned run. With LSU being thin on starting pitching after a long weekend, it was imperative that Bonvillain have a good start for the Tigers and he did not disappoint.
The two pitchers that followed Bonvillain also pitched up to their full potential today. Nick Rumbelow entered the game after UL-Lafayette scored their only run of the game. He shut the Cajuns down as he went 2.2 innings, allowing no hits or runs and striking out four.
As has become expected in Baton Rouge, senior Chris Cotton entered in the ninth inning to slam the door on UL-Lafayette. Three hitters came to the plate to face Cotton in the ninth inning.
Overall, the LSU pitching staff showed up on Sunday. There was not a single weak link in the chain for them today, something that can't be definitively said for the previous two games as the Tigers were solid in every single inning on Sunday.
Along the same lines as Bonvillain, the LSU defense was nearly unblemished on the evening. Aside from one error by freshman Alex Bregman, the defense behind the LSU pitching staff looked phenomenal. Center fielder Andrew Stevenson proved time and time again this weekend why LSU coach Paul Mainieri pegs him as the best outfielder on the team.
On Sunday alone, Stevenson provided catches that eliminated scoring chances for UL-Lafayette, including one full extension catch that prevented a runner from tagging at third. Several other Tigers also flashed leather on Sunday in what would prove to be the best defensive day of the weekend for LSU.
Good defensive play also allowed for the LSU pitching staff to be confident when they toed the rubber throughout the game.
Offensively, LSU got off to a bit of a slow start in this one when they left numerous runners stranded early in the game. Even with a lack of timely hitting, the Tigers were able to produce a run in the fifth inning against the Cajuns.
From that point on, The Tigers never looked back and they produced a three-run sixth inning, followed by another run in the eighth inning on a homerun by Bregman. Top to bottom, LSU collected ten hits on Sunday.
Mainieri was very happy with what he saw out of his squad on Sunday evening.
"We didn't play consistent most times this weekend," said Mainieri. "We strive for perfection every day and we know that is unattainable. If we strive for that, we know we will achieve excellence. Brent was key today against a great hitting team. The pitching a defense kept us there and then we broke through at the plate."
At the end of the day, LSU had everything working for it when they took the field in hopes of claiming a Regional Championship. They played a nearly flawless game and they were rewarded by advancing in the NCAA Tournament where they will host Oklahoma, and potential No. 1 draft pick Jonathon Gray, beginning next weekend.
Everything comes together on Sunday for LSU
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