Mainieri may have found rotation

The LSU baseball team might not have started the season with the same vigor that carried them on a 23-game win streak at the end of last season. Yet, headed into their third week of conference play at 17-5 and 4-2 in league play, the Tigers are happy with the wins on the table given their struggles across the board.

The Tigers traveled to South Carolina this past weekend for the team's opening Southeastern Conference road series of the season.

No. 5 LSU took two of three games from the No. 27 ranked Gamecocks, which marked the sixth conference series the Tigers have won in a row dating back to last season.

Friday night's opening game saw USC right hander Sam Dyson shut the Bayou Bengals down at the plate. He limited LSU to just one run on a pair of hits in seven innings of work, while the Gamecock bats homered four times en route to the 7-3 win at Carolina Stadium.

The loss stopped a three-game streak for the Bayou Bengals, which landed Tiger starter Anthony Ranaudo his first loss on the year (2-1). Of course, as he has been all season, the sophomore right hander was on point for Mainieri from the mound. The New Jersey standout allowed just two runs on three hits over seven innings of work. He walked two batters and recorded nine strikeouts.

Yet the show played out for LSU as it had once or twice already this season, and the Tigers dropped the ball in the game's final innings to give the home team the win.

Friday night, relievers Paul Bertuccini and Jordan Nicholson were on the mound when the damage was done. The Gamecocks' two-run homer off of Bertuccini stretched the lead to 4-1, while third baseman Andrew Crisp's blast later in the inning moved the home team to it's final run total, 7-1.

Senior Louis Coleman, who started the season opener before he moved into the closer role, got the nod from Mainieri to take the mound on Saturday.

The right hander fired 117 pitches over seven innings of work to give LSU the pitching needed for the win. Coleman (5-1) scattered three runs on seven hits, walked two batters and recorded nine strikeouts in the performance.

Jared Mitchell, Micah Gibbs and Ryan Schimpf all homered in the contest, giving the Tigers the combination of hot bats and solid pitching that has eluded them for much of their start. With the 10-3 win, LSU evened the series heading into Sunday afternoon's showdown.

It would be another three-homerun outing for the visitors, coupled with 14 hits, which helped drive LSU to the 14-3 win, giving them the series in the process.

The team reached double digits in hits for the first time since March 11, when the Tigers recorded 13 hits against Louisiana-Lafayette.

After they trailed early, LSU climbed back into the hunt on home runs by Derek Helenihi and Schimpf. While Helenihi's was his first on the year, Schimpf's blast marked his fourth homer in six games.

Leon Landry later belted his ninth homer on the season, a three-run shot that gave the Tigers their biggest lead of the game in the eighth inning.

Austin Ross (3-2), who had been in the Saturday starting slot for the start of the season, got the win in his Sunday debut. The Shreveport native allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits with one walk and four strikeouts.

Freshman right hander Matty Ott stayed hot on the mound, striking out six batters en route to throwing three innings of perfect ball to close the game. The Metairie native is 2-1 with a 1.02 ERA on the year. He has recorded 29 strikeouts and one walk in 17.2 innings.

With the bats getting hot on the road, the pitching combination of Ranaudo, Coleman and Ross will need to carry the Tigers each weekend as the team enters the thick of conference play.

While Mainieri thought that he would have to test the arm of freshman Chris Matulis on the weekends, the all-too-convenient timing of the arrival of Ott saved the Bayou Bengals in a big way.

After looking red hot over his last week, Ott may be ready to move into the closer role for good. That frees up Coleman to move back into the weekend rotation, where the series win showed that he could do wonders for Mainieri in the Saturday spot.

With Ranaudo set for Fridays and Ross for Sundays, the Tigers might have stumbled into their rotation's order just in time.

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