HOOVER, Ala. – In the postgame press conference following Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to Vanderbilt, LSU coach Paul Mainieri commented on how his players were resilient and he wasn’t concerned about their ability to bounce back.
The Tiger skipper reiterated the fact that his team had lost back to back games only once this season – 7-5 and 9-4 to Tennessee a little more than a month ago. Although he was obviously disappointed with the Tigers’ performance – and it showed by his facial expressions and temperament – Mainieri had optimism at a time when there wasn’t much cause for it.
In nine innings LSU managed just six hits off Vanderbilt’s Mike Minor and it looked as if the 6-foot-4, 195-pound southpaw could have gone another nine against a lethargic LSU lineup.
LSU had to rebound but there wasn’t a big team meeting at the hotel to rally the troops in Mainieri’s plans. Maybe it was an extra cup of coffee or simply the fact that their backs were up against the wall and facing elimination.
Or it just may have been something that Mainieri has seen in his troops dating back to April 22, 2008 when the Tigers began their SEC record 23-game win streak. Whatever it was, though, LSU lived to play another day in Hoover after defeating the Crimson Tide 9-5.
“We got a lot of leadership on this team and a lot of veteran players who have been through it,” said Mainieri. “They police themselves and take care of themselves and get themselves focused…We had a little team meeting where we went over a few things but it’s all a matter of the kids. They’re the ones that hold each other accountable and say these are the things we need to do.”
The Tigers topped their six hit mark from the night before in the first three frames against Alabama starter Austin Hyatt, who got the hook from Crimson Tide coach Jim Wells in the fourth after giving up consecutive singles to Ryan Schimpf and Blake Dean to open the inning.
Alabama relievers Tyler White and David Head kept the Crimson Tide within reach and only down by three runs until a pinch-hit three run blast by Derek Helenihi in the seventh busted it open for a 9-3 LSU lead.
The Tigers banged out 12 hits off Crimson Tide pitching and looked much more relaxed at the plate. Nine of the 10 batters that stepped up to the dish recorded a hit led by Schimpf (3-4) and Mikie Mahtook (2-5).
However, while the offense was a sight for all of those sore eyes that took in the Vandy game, the performance on the hill by Anthony Ranaudo was gutsy to say the least.
“I think the key to the game for us was Anthony Ranaudo,” Mainieri said. “Just like last week, at times he wasn’t real sharp early in the game then he found his groove and dominated the game in the middle innings and gave our offense a chance to get going.”
Ranaudo held the Tide in check by allowing only four hits and three runs – two earned – in 7.1 innings, but he labored through some tough innings with his control. When Alabama struck for a pair of runs in the third, the big right-hander walked four batters, all on full counts. The 6-foot-7, 231-pound sophomore threw 31 pitches in the inning and it could have been more had Micah Gibbs not picked Kent Matthes off second to end the threat when he strayed too far off the bag.
“I had two really, really crisp first two innings where I was doing well then I think I just lost a little bit of focus where I walked the leadoff guy and then walked that second guy,” said Ranaudo, who threw 114 total pitches with 71 going for strikes. “I ended up walking four guys and it was just overall a bad inning.
“Once I came back in from that inning I just had to flush it and coach [David] Grewe came up and told me to get rid of it. That’s what I did and I just tried to come back after that inning and just keep putting up zeros and take it one inning at a time, one pitch at a time.”
Ranaudo showed plenty of – to steal a word from Mainieri – resilience with his outing as did LSU closer Matty Ott when he entered the game in the bottom of the eighth in relief of Buzzy Haydel with the bases juiced and the tying run at the plate.
Just as Ott had done all year long he got the Tigers out of the jam as Tyler Odle jumped on the first pitch and hit a soft grounder to second that DJ LeMahieu fielded and tossed to first to end the inning and preserve the 9-5 lead.
Ott found himself in another jam in the ninth but this one was all on him. Alabama got the lead man on and another single put runners on the corners with two outs. Matthes ripped a double off the left field wall to cut it to 9-6 and once again bring the tying run to the plate.
Faced with adversity, yet again, the true freshman from Holy Cross got Brandon May to fly out to right field and put the nail in Alabama’s coffin for the 2009 SEC Tournament.
LSU will now await the loser of the South Carolina/Vanderbilt matchup for a 6:30 p.m. showdown on Friday where the loser will go home.
There have been two sets of Tigers that have shown up in Hoover – one was passive and the other was resilient.
If LSU is going to stick around for the weekend there’s little doubt in which set better show up the next time they take the field.