Feeling better than ever

Fresh off a weekend series win over top-ranked Georgia, the LSU baseball team welcomes Grambling on Wednesday before hitting the road once more on Friday. At 23-8 and 8-4 in conference play, head coach Paul Mainieri could not be happier with where his team his headed.

When the Tigers stumbled out of the gates with a pair of losses to Illinois, Tiger fans figured not to sweat the misstep too much.

It was early in the season, and the No. 1 ranked Bayou Bengals would surely find their groove.

When Louisiana-Lafayette came into Alex Box to take one from the Tigers the following Wednesday, the feeling of uneasiness began to settle in.

Yet, Mainieri and Co. never seemed fazed, rattling off weekend series wins over Kentucky, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Georgia.

"I feel great about our team," said Mainieri before Tuesday's practice. "I can't ever remember being totally satisfied with anything in my business, but we are the number two ranked team in the nation.

"This past weekend we took on the biggest challenge that you can possibly have, and we took the series. I think we are playing the best that we have played this season."

For the Tigers, on the mound is where the 2009 discussion begins.

Louis Coleman leads the way with a 2.11 ERA, followed by starter Anthony Ranaudo's 2.66 ERA and Austin Ross' 3.66 ERA.

Yet, this past weekend the Tigers were finally able to come alive at the plate from start to finish.

"I thought our hitting was tremendous," Mainieri said. "The opening game we swung it well and hit hard outs, and it had the feeling of a 12-1 game.

"The starting pitching has been great all year, and we did not make an error all weekend at Georgia, so I think that we are getting even better."

Still, Mainieri looks to find the final piece of the puzzle.

"I need to bridge the gap between our starters and Matty Ott," he said. "Randy Ziegler will start against Grambling, but I will test some other arms.

"We are going to get a look at Chris Matulis, because he could be a big piece. I will also look at Ben Alsup, Daniel Bradshaw will pitch an inning and Nolan Cain will pitch an inning. We are going to break it up and really use some different guys to see what we have."

If the Tigers can get through Alabama this weekend, Mainieri will have gone 365 days without losing an SEC weekend series.

"I don't know how often that has been done in this league," said the headman with a bit of shock in his tone. "Last year when we swept four league series they told me that it had never been done at LSU, and I found that hard to believe. Five national championships and they had never swept four conference series?

"I think that winning that consistently is an amazing accomplishment, and it is something that I am really proud of our kids for doing."

Yet, at 20-5 and 8-1 in SEC play, Arkansas still holds a two-game lead on the Tigers in the West.

"You have to tip your hat to them, because they were able to sweep a couple of series," Mainieri said. "But, I look down the road and we play Arkansas. They play Georgia next weekend, and then they still have Ole Miss and Alabama.

"So, if we are in position when we play Arkansas, it will be us against them and either we will take care of business or they will. In a conference like this, whoever wins it will deserve it."

The Tigers will travel to Fayetteville on May 1 for a weekend series with the Razorbacks.

LSU gets back into action Wednesday night against Grambling at 6:30 p.m. at Alex Box Stadium.


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