From rags to riches

What a difference a month makes? Nearly one month ago, many had written this LSU baseball team off and were beginning to question whether or not Paul Mainieri was the right man to lead a program that was so rich on history but so short on recent success.

Many felt that the Tigers were in danger of failing to make the SEC tournament for the second consecutive year after they dropped the first two games of the weekend series against Georgia and then blew a seven-run lead in the final three innings on Sunday that eventually ended in a tie.

 

LSU was sitting at 23-16-1 overall and 6-11-1 in the conference.

 

That was way back on April 20 which seems like an eternity even though it was only 29 days.

 

Not many would have thought that things were about to change so drastically after the Georgia series but boy have they.

 

Mainieri’s young group of kids reeled off 16 consecutive victories on the diamond and captured the SEC Western Division title, which was LSU’s fifth divisional crown this decade.

 

“This group of guys truly epitomizes what it means to be a team,” said Mainieri. “They pick each other up, and they play with confidence no matter the score or the situation. I’m proud to call this team division champions – they’ve worked so hard to earn it – and I’m hoping we can add some more championships as we move into the postseason.”

 

LSU’s meteoric rise from being cellar dwellers to sitting on top of the mountain in the West has everyone searching for the key to the Tigers’ resurgence.

 

LSU’s skipper has been asked many times on what the secret formula is for the Tigers’ 16-game winning streak which is the longest by an LSU squad since the 1997 club won its first 19 games.

 

There may not be a secret formula at all but rather just a case of Mainieri settling into his role as leader of LSU’s baseball program and a group of young kids buying into his way of doing things.

 

“I’ve been asked that question often of what’s been the biggest difference with our team but I really don’t have a good answer,” said Mainieri. “If you look at our statistics, nothing really jumps off the page at you but I think the kids have been playing great baseball in every phase and it’s been a total team effort. I’ve coaches for 26 years now in college baseball and this team as much as any team I’ve coached would define the word team because there is really no great superstars but everybody has done their part.”

 

When one takes a closer look there are some numbers worth noting during the course of this winning streak that includes a school record 12 consecutive SEC wins, which is the most in a single season.

 

The Tigers are hitting .367 as a team over the last 16 contests which tells you that it is more than just one guy swinging a hot bat.

 

Matt Clark and Blake Dean have been big producers all year long but both have been knocking the cover off the ball of late.

 

Dean has been lacing the ball and is hitting at a .415 clip with eight doubles, five homers and 16 RBI, while Clark is hitting .396 with seven doubles, six homers and has driven in 18 runs over the course of the nation’s longest current win streak.

 

Tiger fans expected both Dean and Clark to provide a lot of offense for the Tigers but the reemergence of Jared Mitchell has been an unexpected, but pleasant, surprise.

 

Mitchell had split time between baseball and spring football practice for the first six weeks of the baseball calendar and never seemed to find a rhythm on the diamond.

 

He found that rhythm and then some over the past month and has flashed some of the skills that made him a 10th round draft choice of the Minnesota Twins in the 2006 draft.

 

The sophomore outfielder has hit .393 over the 16-game span with four of his five homeruns coming during that span along with 14 of his 21 RBI.

 

“He (Mitchell) had a pretty good year last year but when he went through spring football he kind of slumped a little bit,” Mainieri said. “Now that he is done with spring football and we have reinserted him he has played at a very high level and brought a lot of athleticism to our team.”

 

Sure, the Tigers have averaged over nine runs a game over the past month but the work from the hill has been just as impressive as the pitching staff has a 3.65 ERA over the last 16 outings.

 

Jared Bradford has been on top of his game whether he starts or comes out of the bullpen.

 

There are, however, several unsung heroes that have contributed to LSU’s success on the mound and many of them have played a relief role.

 

Daniel Bradshaw has been remarkable as he has yielded only one earned run in his last 19.2 innings and Louis Coleman looks like he has finally overcome the injury that hampered him after his freshman campaign.

 

Coleman has notched a couple of wins and a pair of saves during the Tigers’ hot streak and allowed only three earned runs in his last 12.2 innings of work with two of them coming against Mississippi State which was the only outing he struggled in.

 

The Tigers have put it together at the plate and on the mound but one area that Mainieri looks to improve on is making plays in the field as his club has committed 14 errors in the last 10 games.

 

If LSU can make the plays on the defensive side and continue to hit and pitch the way it has then this could potentially be one of the more memorable seasons LSU has had.

 

And, who would have thought that a month ago.


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