How will the SEC shake out?

Last weekend Paul Mainieri and his LSU Tiger baseball team made a statement for postseason play to qualify in the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament. This weekend they did the opposite.

Last weekend Paul Mainieri and his LSU Tiger baseball team made a statement for postseason play to qualify in the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament. This weekend they did the opposite.


As the 2007 baseball team winds down, so does LSU's postseason chances with one remaining conference series at No. 1 Vanderbilt. The Tigers were presented with a great opportunity this past weekend when the Florida Gators rolled into Baton Rouge, but Mainieri's Tigers could not cash in.


The first year coach could have possibly secured a spot at the SEC Tournament May 23 in Hoover, Ala., but instead the Tigers dropped another home series to an unranked visiting team. With the conclusion of the regular-season home schedule for LSU, the Tigers finished the season with just one home conference series victory against then No. 14 Mississippi.


"I hate to say it, but I think it was a must win for us," said Mainieri.


By dropping the first two games of the Florida series, the Tigers (29-23-1, 12-14-1 SEC) were forced into a must win situation Sunday because of other games around the conference that can influence LSU's postseason possibilities. Without Sunday's 9-4 victory, LSU's season could have been over.


"This was a really important game," said T.J. Forrest of Sunday's win. "If we lose this one and other guys win, that could break our chances. So we came out today fired up, knowing we had to win and get the job done."


LSU rallied from a 4-3 deficit with a three-run fourth inning, and freshman right-hander T.J. Forrest blanked Florida for the final four innings as the Tigers salvaged the series finale.


"Sooner or later you have to admit it is a must win and get the job done," said Mainieri. "Certainly today fit that category. If we didn't win today, then we would have been going to Vanderbilt for fun, but now the stakes are still there.


"The last time I personally coached against a number-one team was in 2002. We won three times in one week against number one teams. Twice at Florida State in a super regional and once against Rice in college world series."


LSU's inconsistency began at the beginning of conference play when they fell to unranked Auburn 2-1, who also currently holds the leagues worst record. The Tigers then beat No. 14 Mississippi at home, next traveled to No. 15 Mississippi State for a 2-1 series win, came home for a 2-1 series lose to unranked Tennessee, then beat No. 3 Arkansas 2-1 in Fayetteville before they returned home to lose to unranked Florida, 2-1.


The Tigers ironically have a better record against ranked teams (9-8-1) then unranked teams (3-6) in conference play, which means according to Nicholas Pontiff, the Tigers have a chance in Nashville.


"We are going to go to Vanderbilt," said Pontiff. "They are a number-one team, but they are beatable. I think we are going to be alright up there. I think we can win up there."


"It nice today that we had our backs against the wall and we came out and played," said Mainieri. "We got a good win. It keeps us alive. Maybe one more win gets us into the tournament, maybe two. At least we are going into the last weekend of the season playing for something."


On the other hand, LSU has not faired well against SEC Eastern Division teams. The Tigers have loss every series against an eastern team, including South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida. Vanderbilt is not just perhaps the best team in the SEC Eastern Division, but possibly the conference and the nation.


Overall, LSU is 3-8-1 against the east in 2007, but has done well in the SEC Western Division with only a series loss to Auburn.


As of Sunday, LSU closed its home schedule with a 19-14-1 mark in games played at Alex Box Stadium. The Tigers are in a tie with Kentucky for eighth place in the overall Southeastern Conference standings following the Wildcats' victory over Ole Miss on Sunday.  


The conference tournament invites only the top eight teams in league standings, and because Kentucky holds the tie-breaker over LSU with a head-to-head victory, LSU would not be invited to the tournament if the season ended this past Sunday.


LSU will face Vanderbilt in Nashville in a three-game series that starts at 7 p.m. Thursday. Game 2 is slated for 7 p.m. Friday with Game 3 set for Noon Saturday.

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