MOORMANN: LSU prepping for postseason

If there is any doubt as to LSU's preparedness for the postseason, consider the Tigers' response to their first two baseball games against Vanderbilt this past weekend. LSU scratched and clawed and did whatever it took to win twice in extra innings.

That's how teams that wish to stay alive in postseason tournaments behave. They do whatever necessary to come out on top, whether it's finding a pitcher who can quell the opposition, or hitters who can remain focused enough to produce at the plate.

 

"We never feel like we're beat," said junior designated hitter Nick Stavinoha, the only newcomer to the starting lineup and now a firm believer in the philosophy that has become LSU's trademark.

 

Initially slow to adapt to the competitive Southeastern Conference, Stavinoha's bat has been torrid in recent weeks. That was evident in the first game against Vanderbilt when the San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College transfer went 3-for-4, doubled and scored the game's first run. Still, in all, it took sophomore catcher Matt Liuzza's 10th-inning sacrifice fly to give LSU the 3-2 victory.

 

Those two weren't solely responsible for LSU's accomplishment, though. It took the cooperation of everyone, particularly junior pitchers Lane Mestepey and Jordan Faircloth.

 

Neither of them throw exceedingly hard, and certainly not in the range of Vanderbilt starter Jeremy Sowers, a projected first-round draft choice. Yet, Mestepey, with his bulldog spirit, and Faircloth, with his tricky submarine style, proved highly effective.

 

After a year off following shoulder surgery, Mestepey didn't bounce back as quickly as expected. The Tigers have made do as best they could while he¹s worked himself back into shape. With the final regular-season series scheduled for Ole Miss this weekend, Mestepey seems finally to be nearing his stride. He knows what's at stake, and he's experienced enough to give LSU a fighting chance no matter his physical condition.

 

He silenced the Commodores on seven hits and a run through 6 1/3 innings, and when he faltered, Faircloth was there to pick up the Tigers. Faircloth escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam. He later surrendered an eighth-inning run that sent the games into extra innings, but Faircloth was just as tenacious as Mestepey had been. When it was all over, LSU had a one-run victory and a needed boost to its confidence.

 

"That might be the turnaround to our season right there," junior right fielder Jon Zeringue said.

 

Coach Smoke Laval wouldn't go that far, but he did say that Mestepey is "close to where he was" as a freshman and sophomore when he won a team-high 11 games each season. Laval also continued to laud the efforts of Zeringue, who hiked his SEC-best batting average to .431 after the double-header sweep.

 

"It's amazing, isn't it?" Laval asked rhetorically of Zeringue's consistency. "It's just that he has a great (offensive) plan. He doesn't try to hit the ball out of the park every time. He hits within himself this year."

 

Zeringue further exhibited his growing maturity in the bottom of the 11th inning of the nightcap. With pinch-runner Derek Hebert on first base following Liuzza's leadoff infield single, Zeringue fell behind in the count, 0-2. Hebert stole second on a pitch out of the strike zone before Zeringue fouled off two pitches in an effort to protect the plate. Finally getting a pitch up high that he could drive, Zeringue lined a single into center field to score Hebert for the 7-6 victory.

 

A power-hitter at heart, Zeringue's single was reminiscent of how Brad Cresse settled for a one-base hit, as well, to drive home the winning run in the 2000 College World Series Championship Game. Like Cresse, Eddy Furniss and Todd Walker before him, Zeringue has become LSU's "go-to guy."

 

When a hit is needed in a crucial situation, he's the one you want in the batter's box. Zeringue finally has learned that what has happened previously doesn't matter. It's the here, and now, that counts. Furthermore, it's not so important as to how you keep a rally alive just so long as you maintain its momentum. There are no style points in baseball, only runs for those who cross the plate.

 

"I take everything on an even keel," said Zeringue, who admitted that one bad at-bat last season would ruin him for a game.

 

Zeringue hasn't lost his emotional fire, he's just learned how to direct it in better ways. His teammates certainly are aware of Zeringue's burning desire to succeed. He's largely been responsible for shaking the Tigers from their laissez-faire attitude, or what's known on the West Coast as "California cool."

 

The Tigers are full of talent and athletic ability, but they're not so good that they can win without a fight. As long as they remember that, and play to their potential, they have what it takes to prosper in the postseason.

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