USC comes to town

LSU (25-16-1, 6-11-1 SEC) resumes Southeastern Conference action at 7 p.m. on Friday when the Tigers play host to South Carolina (31-11, 11-7) in Alex Box Stadium.

LSU won its two non-conference games this week, defeating Tulane 8-4 on Tuesday and blanking McNeese State 6-0 on Wednesday.


The win over McNeese featured a combined one-hitter by LSU freshmen pitchers Daniel Bradshaw, Austin Ross and Anthony Ranaudo. The one-hitter was the first for the LSU pitching staff since April 18, 1997, when Patrick Coogan limited Ole Miss to one hit in a 7-1 victory in Alex Box Stadium.


LSU enters the South Carolina series in fifth place in the SEC West, 3 ½ games behind first-place Ole Miss (10-8).


This is a big series for the Tigers’ post-season hopes as they are 1 ½ games behind Alabama (8-10) for the final berth in the eight-team SEC Tournament with 12 league games remaining.


“This is obviously a very critical weekend for us,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “We’ve had quite a stretch in the last three weeks, playing Ole Miss, the leader in the SEC West; Georgia, the leader in the SEC East; and now a very talented South Carolina club that is ranked in the Top 10.


“If we’re going to be serious contenders for an SEC Tournament spot, this is the weekend we need to start making our move. South Carolina is a team with great power and so many weapons, but this is an opportunity we’re looking forward to.”


Pitching Rotation


Mainieri said junior left-hander Blake Martin (1-3, 5.14 ERA) will start Friday’s game on the mound for LSU. Junior right-hander Jordan Brown (3-0, 4.00 ERA) will be the Tigers’ starter on Saturday, and junior left-hander Ryan Verdugo (6-2, 3.12 ERA) will start Sunday’s game.


South Carolina coach Ray Tanner will counter this weekend with junior right-hander Mike Cisco (5-1, 3.99 ERA) on Friday, junior left-hander Will Atwood 4-2, 4.02 ERA) on Saturday and sophomore right-hander Blake Cooper (5-3, 3.05 ERA) on Sunday.


Offensive Stars


LSU junior rightfielder Derek Helenihi leads the Tigers with a .345 (48-for-139) batting average, and he has collected nine doubles, three triples, one homer and 23 RBI.


Sophomore designated hitter/outfielder Blake Dean has sizzled at the plate in recent games, raising his cumulative average to .329 (52-for-158) with seven doubles, two triples, 10 homers and a team-best 34 RBI. Dean has 12 hits in his last 23 at-bats, hitting .522 in his last five games.


Junior first baseman Matt Clark is batting .309 (43-for-139), and he leads the Tigers in home runs (15).


LSU is batting .294 as a team with 50 homers, the fifth-highest total in the SEC. The Tigers’ pitching staff has a 3.92 ERA – sixth-best in the SEC – and has recorded 324 strikeouts and 120 walks in 374.1 innings.


South Carolina is led at the plate by junior infielder Reese Havens, who is hitting .394 (65-for-165) with eight doubles, one triple, 12 homers and 42 RBI. Junior first baseman Justin Smoak is batting .388 (62-for-160) with 15 doubles, 16 homers and 48 RBI.


Junior infielder James Darnell is hitting .320 (57-for-178) with 10 doubles, 13 homers and a team-high 56 RBI.


The Gamecocks are hitting .304 as a team with 77 homers, the highest HR total in the SEC. South Carolina’s pitching staff has a 3.61 ERA – third-best in the SEC -- and has recorded 341 strikeouts and 141 walks in 381 innings.


Series Notes


LSU leads the overall series between the schools, 22-20-1; however, South Carolina has won eight of the last nine meetings. The Gamecocks won two of three games over the Tigers last season in Columbia, and South Carolina posted back-to-back three-game sweeps over LSU in 2005 and 2006 in Alex Box Stadium.


The Tigers’ last win over South Carolina in Baton Rouge came on March 21, 2004, a 12-7 LSU victory.


Broadcast Notes


Game 2 starts at 3 p.m. CT Saturday, and first pitch for Game 3 is 1 p.m. CT Sunday.


The games will be carried by the affiliates of the LSU Sports Radio Network. The Baton Rouge affiliate is WDGL 98.1 FM.


Sunday’s game will be televised by the Jumbo Sports Network, and it can be seen in Baton Rouge on Cox Cable Ch. 16.

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