HOOVER, Ala. – There isn’t any secret as to who LSU coach Paul Mainieri wants to give the ball to when his club is in desperate need of a win.
It’s the same guy who bailed LSU out six times this season after the Tigers (43-16) suffered a loss, and the same person that the Southeastern Conference recognized as its Pitcher of the Year – none other than Louis Coleman.
Anthony Ranaudo came up with a solid effort on Thursday to extend LSU's visit in Hoover, but make no mistake about it; Coleman is clutch.
The senior from Schlater, Miss. went eight innings, allowing seven hits and one run [earned] against South Carolina on Friday before exiting with runners on the corners and no outs in the ninth with the Tigers clinging to a 4-1 lead.
Clutch is also the best way to describe Matty Ott who tied the LSU record with his 14th save after spelling Chad Jones who walked the only batter he faced to load the bases with no outs.
The previous night, Ott had the tying run at the plate in the eighth and ninth innings, but he pitched his way out of trouble and preserved the victory. It was déjà vu for the true freshman closer, as he fanned South Carolina’s cleanup hitter Nick Ebert and induced a liner to second off the bat of Jeffrey Jones for the second out. Pinch-hitter Michael Roth then looked at a called third strike and the LSU faithful went wild as the Tigers advanced.
“Ott is mature beyond his years,” said Mainieri. “You don’t often find a freshman that can come in and do the things he’s done. But that’s certainly not the first time he’s done that this year. I’ve watched every game he’s pitched in and he makes big pitch after big pitch. I just have no idea where we would be without that kid and what he’s contributed to the program this year.”
LSU got three strong outings from its starting pitchers including Austin Ross’ performance in Wednesday’s loss to Vanderbilt. That’s the good news.
The bad news is top seed LSU must now defeat No. 6 seed Georgia, not once but twice, on Saturday to advance to the championship game, and the Tigers will have to do so with a pitcher by committee approach.
“We’ll start Bradshaw in game one tomorrow and I’m excited about that because Daniel Bradshaw needs an opportunity, and he’s going to get it tomorrow,” Mainieri said. “If he wants to be a key guy in our program that we can count on then he’ll need to prove that tomorrow. He’s got the ability to do it and he has the confidence to do it, and I think he’s going to go out and give us a good game.
“If we’re fortunate enough to have a second game, at that point, we’ll just have to see who is left.”
LSU took two out of three from the Bulldogs in Athens the first weekend in April when Georgia was ranked No. 1 in the country. Georgia started off on fire but the Bulldogs cooled off considerably down the home stretch by losing 11 of its last 13 contests prior to the SEC tournament.
Georgia is sitting pretty after defeating Ole Miss, 6-3, on Wednesday and edging out Arkansas by a run on Thursday, 2-1. The Dawgs even have 6-foot-6, 236-pound Alex McCree available to take the mound at some point on Saturday, and to make matters worse he is a southpaw.
McCree (4-3, 5.33 ERA) defeated the Tigers on April 4 when he went six innings, allowing seven hits and three runs with two of them earned. He hasn’t fared well of late and has lost his last three decisions after winning his first four. The Tigers, though, aren’t worried about McCree’s latest performances because they saw enough of him in Athens to know that he has good stuff.
“He’s a hard-throwing lefty and he competes really hard,” said LSU catcher Micah Gibbs. “I don’t really put too much emphasis on stats because anyone can have a couple of bad outings. We’re just going to go and really focus on getting on him early and getting off to a quick start.”
The Tigers have struggled against left-handed pitching all year – 15-13 against lefty starters – and with the thin stable of pitchers that they have available, there will need to be plenty of offense if LSU is going to force a second game with the Dawgs.
“We always try to come out and get off to a big start but we have to start giving our pitchers some more runs early on,” said LSU outfielder Ryan Schimpf. “We haven’t really swung the bat well this week and there’s no better time to start than tomorrow.”