Crunch time

The LSU baseball calendar has had the opening day of May circled for some time. Head coach Paul Mainieri and his crew hit the road this weekend to take on No. 7 ranked Arkansas, who sit one-half game behind the Tigers for the lead in the West.

“They still have to play us.”

 

That was head coach Paul Mainieri’s response a month ago when asked about the red-hot Razorbacks.

 

Since then, however, Arkansas (30-12, 13-7) has cooled down considerably according to some, but that view may be skewed by the competition the Hogs have faced.

 

Arkansas has won only five of its last eleven in league play after an 8-1 start that included series sweeps over Auburn and Florida along with taking two of three against Mississippi State. Since then, the Hogs took two of three at South Carolina, but were swept in a shortened two-game series against Vanderbilt at home.

 

Then head coach Dave Van Horn’s club lost two one-run games at Georgia, who was ranked No. 1 in the country at the time, but bounced back to take the Sunday game and avoid the sweep. Toss in the fact that Arkansas went to Tennessee and won the series against the Vols last weekend and the Hogs may not be as flat as some would think.

 

The Tigers (34-12, 14-7), on the other hand, have put together their second longest winning streak of the year – six games – since starting the season 9-0, and after suffering their first series loss in a year at the hands of Tennessee.   

 

Now, the weekend of judgment is upon us.

 

Who is the best team in the West?

 

Last season, that title belonged to Blake Dean and Louis Coleman’s Tigers, a label that both veterans said that they look to carry into the postseason once more.

 

“This team has way more talent than we did last year,” said Dean, who has raised his average to .335 on the year and has 10 homers and 44 RBI. “We just have to find that one factor to push us over the edge.”

 

“Tennessee was the first team we had lost twice in a row to,” added Coleman. “That shows that we are good about turning things around. The one great thing about this group of guys is their ability to rebound. I think that will carry us a long way.”

 

With a number of freshmen thrown into a trial-by-fire situation, Dean said that the squad is in a better spot than he has seen in his time in Baton Rouge.

 

Mikie Mahtook and Tyler Hanover are some scrappy guys that play the game hard every time out,” he said. “When some of our older guys are not hitting well we have younger kids picking up the slack. We have not had that before, so this team is great.

 

“I like where the lineup is with Austin [Nola] coming in at shortstop, so we are in a really good spot.”

 

While Nola has played well since being inserted into the starting lineup after the Tennessee series, he will get his first road SEC start on Friday against an Arkansas team that is dead last in the conference in hitting with a .277 average, and a pitching staff that ranks fifth in the league with a 4.41 ERA.

 

Arkansas will send their ace to the mound in Game 1 on Friday in Dallas Keuchel (6-1, 4.30) to face LSU’s Friday night starter Anthony Ranaudo (5-2, 2.89).

 

With only two SEC series remaining for LSU after this weekend – Florida in Baton Rouge and at Mississippi State – a lot is riding on this series.

 

The way things currently stand, LSU is tied with Georgia for the overall lead in the league at 14-7, but the Tigers currently hold the tiebreaker for the top seed in the SEC tournament since they took two of three against the Bulldogs earlier in the year. Arkansas is next at 13-7 followed by Florida and Ole Miss at 13-8.

 

The No. 4-ranked team in the nation, can the Bayou Bengals feel the pressure mounting as they take to perhaps their biggest weekend series of the season?

 

“I really don’t think that we are looking at this [series] any differently, and that is a credit to great coaching,” Coleman said. “We still just have to take things one game at a time.

 

“It so happens that we are on top of the West, but we need to stay focused,” he added. “I thrive on a big road environment, so it should be a great weekend.”

 

Coming off of a midweek win over Tulane in which the Tigers recorded 13 runs on 16 hits, it seems that the bats might be heating up late in the game once more.

 

“Those games late in the season are really when we are at our best,” Coleman said. “Everyone has settled in, and now people are seeing our best ball. If we can swing the bats like we did against Tulane then we will be fine.”

 

The senior right-hander has notched eights wins and a pair of losses in 15 appearances on the season, making him one of the nation’s premier arms.

 

With a 3.07 ERA and holding opponents to a .227 batting average, SEC teams have buried their heads in the scouting reports as they attempt to figure the Magnolia State native out.

 

Throwing a team high 67.1 innings on the year, how does the staff’s “old man” feel as he heads into the thick of the race to Omaha?

 

“I have never felt better,” he said with a laugh. “Really, though, things are great. Coach knows that we can get eight innings out of me on Saturdays, so if I am only making one appearance then I am being sure to have it count.

 

“[Anthony] Ranaudo has been throwing great on Fridays, and I think that Austin [Ross] will come around on Sunday,” he added. “He has some great movement on his fastball, but it flattens out a bit. He will be on top of things as he makes more appearances.”

 

LSU leads the all-time series with Arkansas, 45-21, including four consecutive series wins dating back to 2004. The Tigers have also won five of their last six when they traveled to Fayetteville to take on the Hogs.

 

“Our players are very excited about facing Arkansas this weekend,” Mainieri said. “We’re looking forward to seeing huge crowds and a great college baseball environment, just like the one we have here at home.

 

“Arkansas is an outstanding team; they play with passion and heart and they know how to win games. It’s our challenge this weekend to match their grit and resolve.”

 

If the Tigers can match the Hogs’ grit and continue their success at Baum Field then there will be even more at stake and bigger challenges over the next two weekends.

 

 

#4 LSU (34-12, 14-7) at # 7 Arkansas (29-12, 13-7)

 

DATES/TIMES 

Friday, May 1 – 6:30 p.m. CT; Saturday, May 2 – 2 p.m. CT; Sunday, May 3 – 1 p.m. CT

 

STADIUM

Baum Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark.

 

RANKINGS

·         LSU - No. 4 by Collegiate Baseball; No. 5 by Baseball America; No. 5 by USA Today/ESPN

·         Arkansas - No. 7 by Collegiate Baseball; No. 8 by USA Today/ESPN; No. 12 by Baseball America

  

RADIO

·         LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates

·         The Baton Rouge affiliate is WDGL 98.1 FM

 

INTERNET

www.LSUsports.net – live video, audio and stats for all three games

 

TV

Cox Sports Television on Friday and Sunday; No TV on Saturday

 

SERIES RECORD

LSU leads, 45-21 (teams first met in 1960)

LSU has won its last four SEC series vs. Arkansas – the Razorbacks’ last series win over LSU came in 2004 in Baton Rouge

 

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Game 1

LSU – So. RHP Anthony Ranaudo (5-2, 2.89 ERA, 65.1 IP, 23 BB, 98 SO)

UA – LHP Dallas Keuchel (6-1, 4.30 ERA, 60.2 IP, 12 BB, 46 SO)

 

Game 2

LSU – Sr. RHP Louis Coleman (8-2, 3.07 ERA, 67.1 IP, 16 BB, 86 SO)

UA – RHP Brett Eibner (4-2, 3.23 ERA, 39.0 IP, 18 BB, 43 SO)

 

Game 3

LSU – So. RHP Austin Ross (4-5, 4.92 ERA, 53.0 IP, 11 BB, 48 SO)

UA – RHP TJ Forrest (2-3, 4.74 ERA, 43.2 IP, 17 BB, 35 SO)


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