The last time LSU (39-16-1, 18-11-1 SEC) and South Carolina (37-19, 15-15 SEC) faced one another on the diamond the Gamecocks strolled into Alex Box Stadium ranked No. 9 in the country and 31-11 overall.
LSU, on the other hand, was struggling to just stay alive in the race for earning one of the final spots in the conference tournament.
The Tigers, however, put it all together that weekend in April and swept the nationally ranked Gamecocks thus sending both teams in opposite directions.
LSU is now the one that finds itself ranked in the Top 10 as the Tigers are as high as No. 8 and riding a 16-game win streak.
The way the Tigers have played over the last month has been impressive and it has certainly caught the attention of South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner.
“They had a great series against us and of course there has been no stopping them,” Tanner said. “They continue to play very well. It’s an extremely talented team that continues to play well and coach Mainieri has been able to plug the right guys in at the right time. They’ve been on an incredible roll and are arguably the hottest team in the country.”
South Carolina, meanwhile, has drifted in the other direction as Tanner’s club is 6-8 since making the trip to Baton Rouge and needed a couple of victories over Tennessee last weekend to secure the seventh seed in the conference tournament.
Tanner hopes that going through the tense moments of having to beat Tennessee twice after dropping the opening game of the series will pay dividends in Hoover.
“I have to think it is going to help us a little bit going through what we did,” said Tanner. “We tried our best to keep them insulated and focused on the business at hand. There was a lot of pressure on us and there was pressure on some other teams as well but I have to think that we are able to take a deep breath and go have fun playing some baseball now.”
The 19th ranked Gamecocks will present a stiff challenge to LSU’s starting pitcher Ryan Verdugo (8-2) as Tanner’s club enters the contest leading the SEC in homeruns with 99 and with a team batting average of .301.
Leading the way for USC is All-SEC selection Justin Smoak, who is ranked near the top of the conference in all major hitting categories.
The junior first baseman is second in the league with 20 homers, third in hitting with a .389 average, and his 61 RBI ranks third in the SEC.
Smoak also has a little help as three other USC players have 16 or more homers on the year with James Darnell (18), Phil Disher (16), and Reese Havens (16) all ranked in the top six in the conference in that category.
South Carolina will counter with freshman right-hander Sam Dyson (7-0) as he will try and shutdown an LSU squad that has been hammering opposing pitchers over the last 16 games.
The Tigers are hitting .335 (207-for-618) as a team during their 16-game win streak with 46 doubles, five triples and 26 home runs, and LSU has outscored its opponents, 150-76, during that span.
The Tigers have the nation’s longest current winning streak and with such a young club some wonder if LSU’s skipper is going to do anything different to keep his group of guys focused in post-season.
“I have spoken very little about this streak with our players,” said Paul Mainieri. “We haven’t spoken a lot about the streak but obviously a lot of people in the media are and it’s been a hot topic of conversation but I’ve tried to just keep the kids’ eye on the most immediate challenge which has always been the next ballgame. So, I don’t think we will treat this week any different than we have every game this year.”
LSU leads the series, 25-20-1 (the teams first met in 1992)
LSU – Jr. LHP Ryan Verdugo (8-2, 3.54 ERA, 76.1 IP, 26 BB, 65 SO)
USC – Fr. RHP Sam Dyson (7-0, 3.86 ERA, 37.1 IP, 23 BB, 37 SO)
LSU’s Leading Hitters
Blake Dean – .340, 13 2B, 2 3B,13 HR, 48 RBI
DJ LeMahieu – .335, 8 2B, 5 HR, 38 RBI
Matt Clark – .333, 8 2B, 19 HR, 47 RBI
Derek Helenihi – .328, 10 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR, 37 RBI
Micah Gibbs – .323, 11 2B, 1 HR, 29 RBI
Michael Hollander – .304, 12 2B, 4 3B, 4 HR, 34 RBI
UCS’s Leading Hitters
Justin Smoak – .389, 18 2B, 20 HR, 61 RBI
Reese Havens – .357, 11 2B, 1 3B, 16 HR, 51 RBI
Whit Merrifield – .319, 8 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 21 RBI
James Darnell – .315, 12 2B, 18 HR, 77 RBI
Phil Disher – .310, 10 2B, 16 HR, 51 RBI
Andrew Crisp – .304, 4 2B, 2 HR, 21 RBI
By the Numbers
- South Carolina had won 11 of its last 12 games heading into the series with LSU back in April but since that weekend the Gamecocks have gone 6-8.
- LSU is 5th in the SEC with a .306 batting average and USC is 6th at .301.
- LSU is 2nd in the conference with 421 runs scored and USC is 5th with 396.
- The Tigers are also 2nd in the SEC with 618 hits while USC is 6th with 592.
- The Gamecocks lead the league with 99 homeruns and LSU is in the middle of the pack with 72.
- The Tigers are tops in the SEC with 24 triples and USC is tied for last with 5.
- LSU enters the tournament 3rd in Team ERA at 3.91 and USC is 5th at 4.32.
- The two teams have both held their opponents to a .260 batting average.
- LSU pitching has allowed 47 homers and USC has given up 53 on the year.
- The Gamecocks are best in the conference with a .977 fielding percentage and LSU is 5th at .970.
- Paul Mainieri said he will use the same 25-man roster he used at Auburn.
- Daniel Bradshaw is expected to be able to pitch after missing last weekend with a sore shoulder
- LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates
- The Baton Rouge affiliate is WDGL 98.1 FM
www.LSUsports.net – live audio and stats
· Cox Sports Television (Cable Ch. 37 in Baton Rouge) will carry LSU’s first and second-round games on Wednesday and Thursday, and the “if necessary” game on Saturday.
· Friday’s games, Saturday’s semifinals and Sunday’s championship game will be carried by FSN Southwest (Cable Ch. 38 in Baton Rouge).