First in the West

Back in what some call the glory years of LSU baseball, Skip Bertman always had his squads get hot at just the right time. After this weekend's sweep of a nationally ranked Kentucky team on the road, Paul Mainieri has his boys playing the best baseball LSU fans have seen in the last three years.

LSU (32-16-1, 12-11-1 SEC) has extended its winning streak to nine games after the successful weekend in Lexington and during that stretch the Tigers have swept two highly ranked opponents in No. 9 South Carolina and No. 16 Kentucky.

 

Who would have thought that LSU would be in first place in the SEC Western Division with two weekends left in conference play but that is exactly where the Tigers are after their stay in Bluegrass Country.

 

Those who may have been shocked when they looked at the conference standings late Sunday night probably got floored Monday afternoon when they learned that the Tigers had moved into the national rankings of three major polls and are now ranked No. 22 by Baseball America magazine, No. 22 by USA Today/ESPN, and No. 23 by Collegiate Baseball magazine.

 

That was something that not many Tiger fans expected a little more than two weeks ago when LSU had won only two of its last eight games.

 

However, this group of young men, that includes only one regular starter that Mainieri did not recruit in Michael Hollander, turned things around and has created a buzz down on the bayou that had not been felt for what seems like an eternity to those who remember cheering the Tigers on in Omaha during the 90’s.

 

The cast of characters that has contributed to LSU’s recent run is led on the offensive end of the spectrum by Blake Dean and Matt Clark.

 

Dean is hitting .432 (16-37) over the last nine games and Clark is not far behind at .407 with four of his 17 homers coming over that stretch.

 

On the hill, Jared Bradford was recently named the SEC Player of the Week after he had a hand in all three of the wins at Kentucky with one victory and two saves.

 

During the winning streak, Bradford has been coming out of the bullpen and he has notched three victories and saved two games in his last five outings.

 

Credit must also go to Daniel Bradshaw as the freshman right-hander from West Monroe has stepped up big by pitching 15 innings and allowing only one earned run in the Tigers rise to the top of the SEC West.

 

It has been a total team effort by the Tigers and Mainieri and his staff deserve a lot of credit for turning these young pups around.

 

Some, including myself, were beginning to question whether or not Mainieri was the man for the job.

 

After seeing this team turn things around down the stretch, though, I am completely sold on LSU’s skipper, but more importantly, his players are sold on his abilities because if they weren’t then they would have folded when things got tough.

 

Next up for the Tigers is a weekend series with Mississippi State at Alex Box Stadium and while three consecutive series sweeps in the SEC may be too much to ask of this young club the notion of taking two-of-three from the Bulldogs is what many are expecting.

 

After all, Ron Polk’s club is sitting at 19-29 and 7-17 in conference play heading into a two-game series with Middle Tennessee State on Tuesday and Wednesday.

 

Sure, the Bulldogs have won only six of their last 25 games and have sole possession of last place in the SEC, but Polk is one of the greatest college baseball coaches of all-time so the Tigers can’t get complacent and must be ready to play this weekend.

 

If they continue to play the way that they have over the last two weeks and carry that momentum into the SEC tournament then this group of guys could be jockeying for a higher regional seed with an outside chance of being able to host a regional.

 

According to one unofficial RPI that was updated on Tuesday morning by boydsworld.com, LSU had climbed up to No. 22.

 

With seven regular season games left against Mississippi State, UNO, and Auburn, the Tigers could present a strong case to the NCAA selection committee when it comes time to naming regional sites.

 

If they can take two out of three from both Mississippi State and Auburn with a win over UNO sandwiched in between then that would make the Tigers winners in 14 of their last 16 contests heading into the SEC tourney in Hoover.

 

Of course, we have the luxury of looking ahead but first thing first for this cast of young Tigers and that is take care of things between the lines this weekend.

 

Everything else will work itself out later.


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