Paul Mainieri has his ball club right where he wants them.
One weekend of business remains. Headed to Starkville to begin a three game series on Thursday, second-ranked LSU (39-14, 18-9 SEC) has their eyes set on a regular season championship.
With Alabama a half game back on the Tigers, Mainieri’s plan is in action.
“Had you asked me at the beginning of the year if I would have taken this spot, I would have said yes,” he said.
Of course, the Tigers would have never gotten to this spot had it not been for the arms of the weekend staff.
“I don’t want to have to think about where we would be if it were not for those guys,” Mainieri said.
Truth be told, no Tiger fan would.
The three weekend starters, Anthony Ranaudo, Louis Coleman and Austin Ross have a combined 21 wins between them.
Frontrunner for SEC Pitcher of the Year honors, Coleman leads the conference in wins (10).
When it comes to people the team could not have done it without, Gibbs said the conversation begins with the senior right-hander.
“It is tough to explain how much Louis means to this team,” he said. “He was doing pretty well in the beginning of the season, but when we got into SEC play he just blossomed. He grew into everything, and he has become such a leader for us.”
Behind the plate on all 17 of the Mississippi native’s appearances, what is the key to stopping the veteran Tiger?
“I am not sure if that can happen,” Gibbs laughed. “He will surely get us seven strong innings every game. If we get into a tough situation, everyone feels like he will get us out of it with no runs allowed.
“He just carries himself in a way that people attract to,” he added. “Late in games he tells the coaches if he wants to go back in. Usually, coach Mainieri will go down and tell a guy he is coming out. But Louis makes his calls, and when he does you can see that everyone on the team really steps it up to get behind him, because they want him to succeed.”
As for how Coleman succeeds once his foot hits the rubber, Gibbs pointed to the right-hander’s release as a place to start.
“I think a lot of batters can’t find [Coleman’s] pitches even on their second and third times seeing him because he throws the ball from such an odd angle,” he said. “He can almost throw a left-handed slider, which is why he is so much more effective against left-handed batters than right-handed.
“He can also see how the hitter swings and make his adjustments on the fly, and not many pitchers can do that,” he added.
Coleman (10-2, 2.45 ERA) will get the Friday start this week, preceded on Thursday night by Ranaudo (6-3, 3.10 ERA).
Getting the lead early, Gibbs said, will be the key to the sophomore pitching well from here on out.
“I think Anthony will be at his best the rest of the way when we get that early lead for him, because then he can just throw it,” he said. “He needs to be able to make some bad pitches and not have to pay for it. When we get the lead, he becomes effective with the elevation of his fastball.
“He can also mix some curveballs in there, so he has the chance to be really good in that situation.”
Ross (5-6, 5.09 ERA), who will get the Saturday start, has been the least effective of the starting three.
Gibbs said that getting the sophomore out of the early innings quickly this weekend, as well as postseason, would leave him at his best.
“Austin is a ground ball pitcher, so you have to get him a really low target,” he said. “When he gets dragged out in the early innings he loses his effectiveness, because he starts throwing the ball up in the zone. If he gets up at all, teams can hit him. That was why he was having so much trouble early in the season with giving up home runs.
“I think he will bounce back for us, because he has looked really good lately,” he added. “He has just become a victim of timely hits over the course of the year, but I think if he can keep his stuff down then he will be really strong for us on the run we are making.”
Not the biggest of tests, Mississippi State enters the weekend eighth in the SEC with a .298 team batting average.
According to Gibbs, this is the time to knock out any kinks before the stretch run.
“We need work on getting the first batter out,” he said. “Louis has been good about that, because I always have been told that around 80 percent of the time that the first batter walks the other team wins. When we get that first out of the inning, the confidence of our defense goes way up.”
Surely Ranaudo’s SEC best 112 strikeouts have helped the cause.
Yet, all eyes remain on the weekend ahead.
Mississippi State leads the all-time series with LSU, 193-162-1, though the Tigers have won five of the last six and 13 of the last 19 meetings between the clubs. LSU swept Mississippi State in Baton Rouge last season.
Game one of the series is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. CT Thursday at Duty Noble Field.
#2 LSU (39-14, 18-9) at Mississippi State (24-27, 8-18)
Thursday, May 14 – 6:30 p.m. CT; Friday, May 15 – 6:30 p.m. CT; Saturday, May 16 – 2 p.m. CT
Dudy Noble Field in Starkville, Miss.
· LSU - No. 2 by Collegiate Baseball; No. 2 by Baseball America; No. 3 by USA Today/ESPN
· Mississippi State - unranked
· LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates
· The Baton Rouge affiliate is WDGL 98.1 FM
www.LSUsports.net – live video, audio and stats for all three games
· Thursday’s game will be televised lived by Cox Sports Television (Cable Ch. 37 in Baton Rouge).
· Friday’s game will be televised live on KPBN (Cable Ch. 113 in Baton Rouge) and on Pelican Sports (Cable Ch. 713 in Baton Rouge and Lafayette). Friday’s game will also be shown on a tape-delayed basis at 10 p.m. on Cox Sports Television (Cable Ch. 37 in Baton Rouge).
· No TV on Saturday
Mississippi State leads, 193-162-1 (teams first met in 1905)
LSU – So. RHP Anthony Ranaudo (6-3, 3.10 ERA, 78.1 IP, 29 BB, 112 SO)
MSU – Jr. LHP Tyler Whitney (3-4, 5.25 ERA, 60.0 IP, 27 BB, 44 SO)
LSU – Sr. RHP Louis Coleman (10-2, 2.45 ERA, 84.1 IP, 18 BB, 99 SO)
MSU – Fr.LHP Nick Routt (5-3, 3.89 ERA, 78.2 IP, 23 BB, 82 SO)
LSU – So. RHP Austin Ross (5-6, 5.09 ERA, 63.2 IP, 14 BB, 56 SO)
MSU – TBA