The Southeastern Conference Western Division leading Tigers (33-16, 13-11-1) pounded out 21 hits, nine of them for extra-bases on the way to capturing their seventh consecutive league victory and 10th straight win.
LSU, ranked No. 22 by Baseball America Magazine, No. 22 by USA Today/ESPN and No. 23 by Collegiate Baseball Magazine will be looking for another victory over the Bulldogs (20-30, 7-18) when the two teams square off in the second game of the three-game series at 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers are seeking to sweep their final regular-season home series in the 70-year history of Alex Box Stadium. The feat would secure LSU its third straight SEC three-game sweep.
It would also boost the Tigers hopes of capturing a fourth SEC series sweep when they conclude West Division play at Auburn next weekend. Victories against Auburn will enable LSU to keep alive the dream of closing out the final year at Alex Box Stadium by hosting a NCAA Regional Tournament. The Tigers are scheduled to move into the stadium currently being constructed 2,000-feet south of the present location on Nicholson Drive.
LSU, which currently leads the SEC West Division by one-half game over Ole Miss didn’t get any help from the rest of the league in other action on Friday night.
“At this point of the year you are well aware of what everybody else in the league is doing and we didn’t get any help,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said as he watched the fireworks light up the night-time sky following his team’s victory. ”But that’s okay because we’ve got our destiny in our own hands. We have to take care of business and play well. We’re going down the stretch run and have no excuses. We got an opportunity to help ourselves and tonight I thought that we did that by playing well and winning.”
Sophomore Jared Mitchell pounded out four hits, including a home run and a double to lead LSU’s attack. Freshman Leon Landry added three hits, including a double and freshman D. J. LeMahieu wrapped three hits of his own.
Junior Matt Clark added two hits, including a home run, his 18th of the year while junior Derek Helenihi and sophomore Blake Dean added two hits, including a double each.
“It was an awesome start by our guys,” Mainieri said. “I thought that we looked pretty good offensively in those first couple of innings. We went into a lull for a while afterwards and didn’t score with runners in position. That let them (MSU) stay in the game.
“Overall you can’t help but be pleased with the team’s play, especially when they get 21 hits and score 15 runs. I thought that the big crowd (6,514 actual attendance) and with a lot of expectations the kids showed a lot of poise in coming out and playing well.”
LSU exploded for four runs in the first inning behind Helenihi’s two-run single to left field and a run-scoring double to center from Clark. Their effort was part of a six-hit barrage that included a double from Landry and singles by Mitchell, Dean, and LeMahieu.
Mitchell delivered a two-run homer, his sixth of the year to help power a seven-hit, seven-run second inning that enabled LSU to charge in front, 11-3. Clark contributed a two-run homer, his 18th of the season and Ryan Schimpf a thee-run homer, his eighth while Michael Hollander, Micah Gibbs, LeMahieu, and Landry added singles.
“Mitchell has been playing well for a long time now,” Mainieri said. “”His confidence is growing now that he’s back full time in baseball. He’s a great player and athlete, and I’m glad to see him have a great night.
“We came out and put a lot of pressure on them offensively, early. Things worked out well and we got a lot of clutch hits. Everyone got big hits and we received a great team effort.”
Nick Hardy collected three hits, including a two-run homer and Ryan Powers added three hits, including a double to lead Mississippi State’s 14-hit attack. Jet Butler added two hits, including a double while Ryan Duffy also had two hits for the Bulldogs.
Louis Coleman (4-0) pitched three-plus innings to earn the victory in relief of starter Ryan Verdugo (7-2) for LSU.
“I was hoping that Ryan would get through the fifth inning so that he’d get the win.” Mainieri said. “I gave him the opportunity to do so, but after 11 hits and six runs I thought that it was time to try and get the game back under control. I thought that Coleman came in and did a good job of doing that.”
Mainieri was concerned about how his team would respond after nearly a week layoff since sweeping its series at Kentucky but the Tigers passed the test with flying colors.
“I was so nervous personally because the crowd was electric,” Mainieri said. “An hour before the game time there were a lot of people in the stands. A lot of things were going on and everyone knew the significance of the game. We hadn’t played since last Sunday and there was a little bit of uncertainty. I was glad that we got out on the field and got off to a fast start.
“Our kids played well and we had some big innings. It was fun, but it only counts as one game. Mississippi State has a lot of pride and I expect them to comeback and play hard. It’s going to be tough for us. If this counted for more than one win I’d be extra excited, but it only counts for one. Hopefully, we can come out and play well and win the rest of the series, especially for our fans.”
Through a stretch of April, LSU was 2-5-1 after a weekend series with Georgia but since then the Tigers have played with a lot of confidence and poise throughout their current 10-game-win streak.
“I don’t know that it’s been any one aspect of the game that has made the difference for us,” Mainieri said. “”I think that our kids were playing well long before we started this win streak. We were coming up a little short, one hit, one pitch or one play.
“But, the kids have turned things around. It’s easy to not do that if you hang your head, pout, and feel sorry for yourself. But, our kids have never done that. They’ve stayed very positive and worked hard. They’ve believed in themselves and stayed the course. Now the breaks are starting to go our way and we’re making a lot of our own breaks. I knew that we were capable of being a pretty good ball club and now we’re starting to show it.”