Tussle in Tuscaloosa

The LSU Tiger baseball team will travel to Tuscaloosa this weekend to face the Alabama Crimson Tide. If the visitors can take at least two, head coach Paul Mainieri will have gone 365 days without dropping an SEC series.

Don’t look now, but the Tigers (24-8, 8-4 SEC) are on a bit of a roll.


Mainieri and his crew have not dropped a conference series since April 2008, reeling off eight consecutive weekend wins over the past two years.


The Tide (21-10, 6-6) are rolling as well, winning five straight including a series sweep of Tennessee last weekend in Tuscaloosa.


Yet, for the Tigers, a weekend win over top-ranked Georgia has the mood of the clubhouse higher than ever.


“I think we are playing some of our best ball right now,” Mainieri said. “This past weekend the guys took on the biggest challenge that you could possibly have, and we took the series.”


However, the Tigers dropped Saturday’s contest, a result of a pitching move that the Tiger skipper does not want to have to make happen again.


Louis Coleman, who was slated to get the game two start, appeared in relief for Anthony Ranaudo on Friday night.


The senior right-hander allowed one earned run, a solo homerun in the eighth, and two hits over 2.1 innings of work.


The appearance pushed Coleman’s start back to Sunday, where he worked eight innings to earn his seventh win of the season.


No longer, however, will he be used as the answer to all of the Tigers’ pitching woes.


“What I did this past weekend was really stretching it,” Mainieri said. “Maybe there is a weekend down the year when we are in crunch time, but I realized that I really pushed the envelope last weekend with him.”


So much so, Mainieri said, that an answer would be found this weekend in Tuscaloosa, no matter the situation.


“If we go to Alabama this weekend and Ranaudo pitches like he did at Georgia and we have a five run lead after six innings, who can I bring in to bridge the gap to Matty Ott,” Mainieri asked.


“It is not going to be Coleman, it is going to be somebody else. Whether it is Nolan Cain, Chris Matulis, Paul Bertuccinni, I don’t know. We will just have to see.”


Yet, after sophomore Ben Alsup went four hitless innings in the start against Grambing State on Wednesday, Mainieri might have found himself a candidate.


“I really thought that Ben was the story of the night [Wednesday],” he said. “I think that he could do some things for us this weekend as well.”


Game one of the series begins at 6:30 p.m. CT Friday, with game two set for 6 p.m. CT Saturday and game three set for 2 p.m. CT Sunday.


Mainieri said that Ranaudo (3-2, 2.66 ERA) will start Friday’s game, sophomore right-hander Austin Ross (4-3, 3.66 ERA) will start on Saturday, and Coleman (7-1, 2.11 ERA) will start on Sunday.


Alabama coach Jim Wells will counter with senior right-hander Austin Hyatt (5-1, 3.02 ERA), junior left-hander Del Howell (3-1, 3.27 ERA) and junior right-hander Adam Scott (1-0, 3.38 ERA).


While the Tide starters are all fresh off of winning starts, the Tiger starters remain among the top pitchers in the league statistically.


Coleman’s seven wins are a conference best. Ranaudo’s 70 strikeouts are also a conference best, while the .192 that opponents are batting against him ranks second in the league .


The Tide, however, are the hottest SEC team at the plate, batting a league-best .346 on the year.

 

Leading Alabama at the plate is Kent Matthes. The senior outfielder is batting .405 and leads the SEC and the nation with 19 home runs. His 54 RBI is second in the league, while his 1.036 slugging percentage is best in the SEC.


The Tigers are batting .305 as a team, yet their 71 stolen bases are good for best in the league.

 

“We have another tremendous challenge on our hands this weekend,” said Mainieri. “It seems like Alabama leads the league in every offensive category. They can really cause a lot of problems with the way they swing the bats.


“They also had excellent starting pitching in their series with Tennessee last weekend. Alabama is a very tough place to play, but I know our kids are excited to compete in a great college baseball environment”.

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