There are a lot of ways to approach a conference tournament for a team that has pretty nailed down all it needs to with the NCAA Tournament on the immediate horizon.
Cruise through. Tune up. No pressure.
Unless you happen to pull an LSU jersey over your head and put that purple cap on.
The Tigers make no bones about how they approach their trip the SEC Tournament and Wednesday provided more proof of just how important the event is to league’s standard-bearing program.
Facing a Missouri team brimming with offensive confidence after an opening-day win over Texas A&M, LSU shook off an early long ball and endured a rain delay to roll to a 10-3 victory.
The win propels No. 2 seed LSU (40-17) into a second-round showdown at 8 p.m. Thursday with Kentucky (39-18), which edged South Carolina 7-5 earlier Wednesday.
Caleb Gilbert was a big part of the story. Making a start in his hometown for the second year in a row in the tournament, the hard-throwing sophomore tossed 5 solid innings before rain intervened.
LSU, which won for the 500th time in Paul Mainieri’s 11-year tenure, got strong bookend performances from the lineup, with Kramer Robertson (2-for-4, 3 runs, 2B, RBI), Cole Freeman (4-4, 2 runs, 3-run home run, 4 RBIs), Antoine Duplantis (2-for-5, run, 2 RBIs), Mike Papierski (2 walks, 2 runs) and Zach Watson (1-3, 2 runs, 2B) supplying most of the damage against Mizzou lefty T.J. Sikkema and three relievers in what turned into a relatively breezy win.
Things figure to get a little more difficult moving forward as LSU takes aim at a sixth SEC Tournament championship in 10 years. But it doesn’t hurt to have Game 1 in the books. http://www.scout.com/college/lsu/story/1780146-cb-patrick-surtain-update...
Missouri (36-22) came in hot with a six-game winning streak in tow, and jumped in front when Kameron Misner hammered a Gilbert breaking ball over the fence in right-center field for a home run and 1-0 cushion.
Kirby McGuire produced Mizzou’s second hit in a row with a single to right-center, but Gilbert settled in and got the final two outs to slam the door.
That triggered a stretch when Gilbert retired 10 of the final 12 batters he faced, the top six hitters in Missouri’s lineup in order in the 3rd and 4th frames.
With Missouri wrapped up by Gilbert, the LSU bats slowly but surely came to life.
Sikkema came into the day with an SEC-best .169 opponent batting average, but that certainly didn’t faze LSU.
Papierski drew a leadoff walk to start the 3rd inning and Watson chased him home when he plugged the gap in right-center field for an RBI double. Robertson drilled a single to left field to put runners on the corners and Freeman chased home the go-ahead run with a fly ball to deep right.
Robertson dashed to second base on the flyout and that became bigger when Antoine Duplantis whipped an RBI single over the right side of the infield. Duplantis scooted home when three Missouri players converged on Nick Coomes’ two-out bloop to shallow right but nobody caught the ball, turning it into an RBI single and 4-1 LSU cushion.
LSU was in the process of padding the lead in the 5th when weather intervened and stopped the game for 1:21. Duplantis chased Robertson home before the rain arrived and once play resumed, Freeman darted home on Nick Coomes’ RBI groundout.
Nick Bush took over for Gilbert after the stoppage and navigated a pair of tricky scoreless innings. Zack Hess didn’t remain unscathed when he took over in the 8th, with a pair of tough ground balls and a two-out walk supplying Missouri with a glimmer of hope.
Connor Brumfield reached to start the Mizzou 8th inning on a ground ball ruled an error, although Freeman crossed into shortstop territory to gobble up a chopper before his throw was short-hopped. Hess got the next batters but with Brumfield at second base, Missouri cleanup man Brett Bond rolled a ball toward the middle that Robertson scooped up, realized he didn’t have a play at first, spun and fired a throw to Papierski at the plate that was off the mark, allowing Brumfield to score and cut the LSU lead to 6-2.
Hess walked Misner to bring up McGuire, who rolled into a 4-6 fielder’s choice to snuff the threat out.
Missouri’s minor outburst clearly got LSU’s attention.
Brian Sharp had slowed LSU down after entering in the 5th, but he ran into trouble in the 8th when he walked Papierski and Watson with one out.
Robertson jumped on a first-pitch strike and roped an RBI single to left field to get the run back from the top of the inning. Freeman worked the count to 3-and-1 and then drilled a line drive over the left-field fence for a three-run game-sealing homer.