No. 1 ranked LSU (27-10, 10-5) has won nine straight conference series dating back to April 2008. How often can a Southeastern Conference baseball coach say that he has not lost a conference series in a year’s time?
Come Friday, LSU head coach Paul Mainieri will be able to lay stake to the claim as his team has not lost a conference series in 365 days.
“I don’t really know how to put a finger on how we were so consistent,” Mainieri said. “I think it says something about the focus of these kids, and all I can ask them to do is keep that up.”
Keeping it up, of course, would be a feat that no other SEC team has ever been able to accomplish in the current 30-game format that was implemented in 1994. The Tigers nine series wins in a row tied a Vanderbilt record.
“I think it says a lot about this team,” said junior Blake Dean, whose hot bat propelled the Tigers to four straight series sweeps last spring. “We are playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country, and for us to go out and get it done like we have been lets people know that we are coming to play.”
Despite the success, Mainieri said that the coming weekend is all that his ballclub is focused on.
“Tennessee has our full attention,” he said. “They swept us in Knoxville last year, and that is fresh on our minds. They are also playing their best baseball of the season right now, and we have to be prepared for a tremendous challenge.”
Tennessee may be playing their best baseball of the season, but over the long haul the Volunteers have struggled. Those struggles have been magnified at the plate where Tennessee is next to last in the league in hitting with a .291 average. The Vols have not hit for average, but they have hit 58 homers on the year which is one more than the Tigers have rapped.
Leading Tennessee at the plate is sophomore infielder Cody Hawn, who is hitting .339 and leads the club with 14 homers, 11 doubles and 54 RBI. Hawn’s marks are good for third in the SEC in RBI, fourth in homers and eighth in doubles.
Not far off is Blake Forsythe as the sophomore catcher is second on the team with a .331 average, 12 home runs and 33 RBI.
LSU counters with an offensive attack that is fourth in the conference in hitting, checking in with a .309 average. Sean Ochinko continues to pace the Tigers with a .358 average and his 36 RBI ranks one ahead of Ryan Schimpf, who is tied for the lead in homers with Leon Landry at nine.
Just as he has for much of the year, DJ LeMahieu is threatening to overtake Ochinko as the sophomore shortstop is hitting .357. But the story for LSU of late has been the play of Dean.
Dean started the year off slowly, but has caught fire over the last six games. The junior from Crestview, Fla. is hitting .400 (10-25) over that stretch with a double, three homers and 14 RBI.
While the Tigers’ weekend rotation has been determined in large part by when senior Louis Coleman would make an appearance, the Tiger skipper said that the coming weekend will set the stage for a rotation that he hopes to sit on over the coming weeks.
“Anthony Ranaudo will start on Friday night, and then we will throw Louis Coleman on Saturday and Austin Ross on Sunday,” he said. “I don’t want to use Louis in a relief role on Friday nights unless I absolutely have to, and I only see that situation arising later in the season.”
Ranaudo continues to lead the SEC in strikeouts (76) and is No. 3 in the league in opponent batting average (.210). Coleman leads the conference in wins (8) and is No. 2 in strikeouts (69).
The Volunteers will counter with junior right-hander Aaron Tullo (2-4, 4.89 ERA) on Friday and junior left-hander Nick Hernandez (2-4, 5.29 ERA) on Saturday. Tennessee’s Sunday starter has yet to be named.
The weekend is going to be filled with excitement as it is being billed as “Super Tiger Weekend” due to all of the events on campus. There will be plenty of action to keep fans happy, but one thing in particular will make LSU’s skipper happy come Sunday.
“We are focused and ready, so I think things will pick up for us,” Mainieri said. “If we could keep winning 2-of-3 from the conference’s teams every weekend then I would be more than happy.”
Tennessee (17-21, 3-12) at #1 LSU (27-10, 10-5)
Friday, April 17 – 7 p.m. CT; Saturday, April 18 – 1 p.m. CT; Sunday, April 19 – 1 p.m. CT
Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. (9,200)
· LSU - No. 1 by Baseball America; No. 1 by Collegiate Baseball; No. 1 by NCBWA; No. 3 by USA Today/ESPN
· Tennessee -- unranked
· LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates
· The Baton Rouge affiliate is WDGL 98.1 FM
www.LSUsports.net – live audio and stats for all three games; live video on Friday and Sunday
LSU leads, 43-19 (teams first met in 1907)
LSU – So. RHP Anthony Ranaudo (3-2, 2.68 ERA, 50.1 IP, 19 BB, 76 SO)
UT – Jr. RHP Aaron Tullo (2-4, 4.89 ERA, 35.0 IP, 13 BB, 42 SO)
LSU – Sr. RHP Louis Coleman (8-1, 2.38 ERA, 53.0 IP, 15 BB, 69 SO)
UT – Jr. LHP Nick Hernandez (2-4, 5.29 ERA, 51.0 IP, 9 BB, 44 SO)
LSU – So. RHP Austin Ross (4-4, 3.86 ERA, 44,1 IP, 8 BB, 41 SO)
UT – TBA