Hitting their groove

Entering the thick of Southeastern Conference play, every head coach in the league would be happy with taking a weekend series. When that series comes on the road against the nation's top-ranked team, the feat becomes all the more impressive.

LSU (23-8, 8-4 SEC) took two of three games from No. 1 Georgia over the weekend, marking the teams’ eighth straight SEC series win dating back to last season.

When the Tigers took Friday night’s opener, it marked head coach Paul Mainieri’s 100th win over his three seasons at LSU. (101-53-2).

Anthony Ranaudo (3-2) earned his first career SEC win on the night. The sophomore recorded six shutout innings to carry the Tigers past the Bulldogs, 8-4.

Home runs rained down for the visitors, with the Tigers taking the early 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Micah Gibbs launched a solo homerun.

Ryan Schimpf and Sean Ochinko joined the action in the third frame with a three-run homerun and a solo shot, respectively.

“I thought that Anthony gave us another great outing, and we were finally able to give him the opportunity to pitch with a lead,” Mainieri said.

Since the Tigers’ March 6 loss to Illinois, where Ranaudo fired a career-high 12 strikeouts and allowed only one unearned run in seven innings of work, the sophomore right hander his seen his share of frustrating outings.

From striking out 13 batters in a no decision against Kentucky to allowing just three hits over seven innings in a loss at South Carolina, the road has been bumpy without the bats behind his arm.

For Ranaudo, Friday night’s three homeruns through the opening three frames was all he needed. Whether the Tigers can continue that opening night production, however, remains to be seen.

Louis Coleman appeared in the seventh for the Tigers on Friday, which moved Austin Ross into the Saturday slot once more.

The sophomore, coming off the best outing of his career at South Carolina last Sunday, was charged with six runs on nine hits in three innings of work.

At the plate, however, the Tigers remained alive.

After taking a 1-0 lead in the first off a Jared Mitchell homerun, the Bulldogs jumped out front 4-1 in the bottom of the inning and never looked back.

Yet, the bats countered on every Bulldog attack.

The Tigers scored five of their runs over the game’s final two innings, yet UGA closer Dan Weaver plugged the sinking ship in the ninth to give the home team the win, 10-8.

Coleman (7-1) was back in action on Sunday, and his performance would be felt once more.

The senior worked eight innings to earn his seventh win of the season. The Schlater native allowed five runs on eight hits and recorded one walk and nine strikeouts.

Despite throwing 27 pitches in Friday’s win, Coleman was back in a big way for the Tigers on Sunday to clinch the series win. The right-hander also remained the conference’s leader in wins.

“It’s hard to put into words what Louis Coleman means to our program,” Mainieri said.

Perhaps just as important of a piece to the puzzle, freshman closer Matty Ott also caught the headman’s eye.

LSU led 7-5 heading into the bottom of the ninth when Mainieri called for Ott in relief of Coleman.

The freshman took the ball from the senior and fired a two hit, three-strikeout performance for the save.

“Matty again displayed tremendous poise on the mound, and I have all the confidence in the world in that kid, and he came through again with a clutch performance.”

After taking over the closer role when Coleman re-entered the weekend rotation, the New Orleans standout has been nearly flawless, recording six saves in the process.

It seems that all the pieces are coming together at the right time.

A combination of hot bats and steady arms helped the Tigers take two of three games from UGA, which Mainieri said is all that he can ask for this time of the year on the road in the SEC.

Where the Tigers would be without Louis Coleman, the “old man” of the team, is a question that LSU surely does not want to ponder.

Yet, what makes this team one of the nation’s best is the question of where they would be without even their youngest talents.

Sure, there is Ott.

Yet, not far behind is the performance of freshman Tyler Hanover.

The Kennersville, N.C. native burst into the Tiger lineup to take over at the hot corner midway through the team’s 2009 run, and the weekend’s series win surely could not have come without his production from the plate. The 2008 North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year batted .385 (5-for-13) over three games with two doubles, four RBI and three runs.

With Grambling on tap for Wednesday before the weekend’s road series against Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Mainieri and the Tigers look to keep the ball rolling.

If they can take the series against the Crimson Tide, the Tigers will enter their April 17 showdown against Tennessee having not lost a conference series in 365 days.

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