No. 8 LSU ventures into Swayze Field for a three-game series with No. 12 Ole Miss starting with a nationally televised showcase Thursday at 6:30 p.m. While baseball isn't considered a sport where home-field advantage has a significant effect — other than getting to bat last in the ninth inning — Ole Miss certainly provides its own unique challenges.
That right field student section in particular has been the source of venom directed toward LSU outfielders in the past, with the bourbon-induced vitrol leading to some interesting trash talk.
"It is a challenge to tune out the other fans," said senior Sean McMullen. "But that's what makes it a lot of fun. It's just a good atmosphere, and I know Ole Miss is going to bring it."
This series serves as the second part of an interesting Spring Break road trip for the Tigers. The week started Tuesday in Metairie with a 13-5 victory against Southern Miss in the Wally Pontiff Classic. From there, the Tigers rode sleeper busses to Memphis, Tenn., and spent Wednesday meeting with patients and their families at St. Jude's Children's Hospital.
LSU arrived in Oxford Wednesday evening and squeezed in a practice to prep for the weekend.
The last time LSU played four straight games away from Alex Box Stadium didn't go very well, as the Tigers first lost to Tulane and were then swept by Florida.
"This is as challenging a week as that one was," Mainieri said. "Hopefully we'll have a lot more success than we had that week…When we go to Oxford, we have to play better against them than we did against Florida if we want to have some success."
The Tigers will need a positive result against the Rebels in order to keep pace in the SEC. LSU enters the weekend a half game behind Ole Miss, who are tied with Florida for second place in the conference, one game behind leader Alabama.
BREAKING DOWN THE REBELS
Despite losing the bulk of their production from last year's team, Ole Miss has had a successful month of April. After dropping two of their first three SEC series to South Carolina and Auburn, the Rebels have won eight of their last nine. Since getting swept by the Tide, Ole Miss bounced back for a perfect weekend against Auburn then took two-of-three from in-state rival Mississippi State. The only loss in that series came in extra innings, when the Rebels blew a three-run lead in the 10th inning.
Ole Miss ace Chris Ellis gets the start Thursday night against LSU's Aaron Nola. He was primarily a reliever through the first two seasons of his career, but he's entered the starting rotation with success. He has a 3-0 record in conference play this season and his 1.81 overall ERA ranks him in the Top 10 of the SEC.
Friday's starter Christian Trent, a Louisiana native, transferred from Delgado CC and has had a dashing debut in the SEC. Opponents are hitting .216 against him this season, and he has 49 strikeouts compared to just eight walks. Sam Smith is also a Louisiana native from Barbe in Lake Charles, and he's held opponents to a .256 batting average in conference play.
As for the bullpen, Aaron Greenwood hasn't allowed an earned run in 13 1/3 innings of SEC action. Josh Laxer leads the team with three saves, and Wyatt Short has also received plenty of work out of the pen, and has a 3.86 ERA in 9 1/3 innings of conference work.
Ole Miss has the second best team batting average in the SEC, trailing only Kentucky with a .310 clip. The Rebels are one of only three teams in the conference to score more than 200 runs this year, and their 25 home runs is also good for second in the conference.
3B Austin Anderson and C Will Allen have led that charge, with each ranking in the Top 6 of the SEC in batting average. Auston Bousfield, Sikes Orvis and Braxton Lee are three other Rebels in the everyday lineup with batting averages above .300.