Powerful at the plate

The LSU baseball team is one of the nation's hottest ball clubs, wrapping up the regular season with a share of the Southeastern Conference crown this past weekend in Starkville, Miss. With their sights set on the SEC Tournament title, as well as a national seed come tournament time, all is well in Baton Rouge.

LSU’s 27 runs scored over the weekend tied an SEC season-high for head coach Paul Mainieri’s crew.

On the weekend of April 17, the last time they scored 27 in a weekend, LSU dropped two of three games to Tennessee – their first conference series loss since April 2008.

However, this time around, the run total was followed by a different storyline.

The Tigers took two of three from Mississippi State, trading one-run games on Thursday and Friday before an 11-run blowout on Saturday.

That, coupled with the rest of the conference’s final weekend shakedown, kept LSU out front just enough, tying Ole Miss for the regular season conference crown.

Never short on the dramatics, the SEC came down to the final game of the year.

While the weekend staff dominated the headlines – and competition - for much of the season, it was the bats that pushed Mainieri’s crew to the crown on Saturday.

It was a performance made for Broadway. As for the actors, they were on point.

Leon Landry, who had been benched four weeks prior to get freshman Mike Mahtook into the lineup, stole the show.

The sophomore recorded three home runs and 7 RBI on 5-of-6 hitting, helping the Tigers to the 15-4 game three win.

Saturday, however, was just the icing on the cake. Landry went 8-of-10 from the plate with five runs and 8 RBI over his past four games.

“I was a little upset when I got benched but I was not going to pout about it,” he said. “I just sat back and took it all in, and I think that I am taking a new approach to the plate. I watched how teams pitched Blake [Dean], Ryan [Schimpf] and other left-handed batters, and I changed some things.

“I think that this past weekend I got the confidence back that I had at the beginning of the season.”

On Friday, it was a more familiar late-season face making his mark.

Down 5-7 in the top of the ninth, Blake Dean blasted a two-run, game-tying shot over the right field fence at Duty Noble Field. Mr. Clutch, as he had come to be known around this time last season, was back.

“When he hit that ball, I just thought it was the typical Blake Dean,” Mainieri said. “If Reggie Jackson was Mr. October, Blake is Mr. May and June. I have never had a more clutch hitter in my entire coaching career. He has a flare for the dramatic.

“The first game I coached at LSU was also the first one that Blake played in,” the skipper added. “We were up against St. Mary’s, and he stepped up on his first at bat and hit a three-run home run. He has been this way his whole career.”

While Dean has picked his average up to .330, the junior had flirted in the .200’s during a slump earlier this season.

DJ LeMahieu, on the contrary, has been lethal at the dish from start to finish.

The only player outside of Dean to have started in every game he appeared in (55), the sophomore leads the team in batting average (.350) and hits (72).

“DJ is Mr. Consistency,” Mainieri said. “It does not surprise you because of his temperament. You can look at him and not know if he went 4-for-4 or 0-for-4. Because of that, he never really gets in prolonged slumps.

“His swing is conducive with his hand-eye coordination, so he will make good contact each time,” he added. “He does not bat with a lot of power, so a lot of his at bats are about finding the rights holes and not hitting the ball at people.”

Jared Mitchell, whose .341 average is second best on the team, brings a different benefit to his plate appearances.

Successful on 29-of-36 stolen base attempts, the junior speedster provides smooth sailing for hitters behind him in the order.

“With world class speed like that, pitchers are forced to throw a lot of fastballs,” Mainieri said. “If you notice where I hit him, it will typically be in front of a guy that is not a great breaking ball hitter. [Sean] Ochinko is someone that I like behind him because he will see a lot of fastballs, and we will get better at bats from him.

“Jared is such an influence offensively, when he is going well we have a whole new dimension to our team.”

Add all the said ingredients, and the Tiger skipper’s club is on point across the board.

LSU is among the top three in the SEC in batting average (.316), slugging percentage (.524), on base percentage (.406), runs scored (445), hits (596), RBI (415), walks (275), sacrifice flies (34) and stolen bases (99).

“I think that one through nine our order is as good as any,” Mainieri said. “When one guy drops off for a game, someone else will pick him up. That is what is going to win us ballgames down the stretch.”

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