Last season’s magical run to Omaha was made memorable by late game heroics – often multiple-run ninth innings with home runs to boot.
“Last year we found ourselves benefitting from Matt Clark hitting a big ball for us at the end of a game,” said senior pitcher Louis Coleman. “Headed into the postseason this year, we have a new approach.”
That approach – as evidenced by the teams’ 103 stolen bases and 89 home runs on the year – has the Tigers carrying the title of one of the nation’s most aggressive teams.
Their stolen base mark is good for No. 22 in the nation, while their home run total ranks at No. 19.
“It shows how dynamic our team is,” said sophomore second baseman DJ LeMahieu. “We have a little more speed than we had last year, so to be able to also steal bases when we already hit for home runs is an unbelievable thing.”
Mainieri said that his aggressive mentality has been the same throughout his coaching days – eventually strengthened by former Tiger coach Skip Bertman.
“I never want to get caught in a slugfest,” he said. “When I first got to LSU, coach Bertman told me a story from the gorilla-ball days. His team was in Omaha, and the wind was blowing hard and coming straight in. It neutralized his big bat offense, and that was not a position they wanted to be in.
“We finished with exactly 100 home runs last year, but we are getting a lot more steals now,” he added. “Being that aggressive gives us the chance to win in a lot of ways.”
The biggest contributor to the steal count – totaling 30 swipes on the year – has been right fielder Jared Mitchell. Add to that the junior’s .326 batting average and 47 walks, and Mitchell sports a team-high .472 on base percentage.
“We are making a conscious effort on base running, because it keeps the pressure on,” he said. “We can play with power, but if we also have guys who can get out and take bases, then it helps a lot.”
Keeping the pressure on, said designated hitter Blake Dean, is what will eventually have the opposition cracking.
“If we keep people moving and we stay aggressive, then the other team has to make perfect throws every time,” he said. “Eventually, they are going to slip and give us the opportunity to get some runs. That mentality has this team playing more versatile than last year.”
While base running blunders have come on the regular – as recently as Dean overrunning second on an inning-ending play against Vanderbilt in Sunday’s SEC title game – Mainieri said that getting to the 100 home run/100 stolen base mark is one that is built on give and take.
“I am not afraid to make mistakes, and you have to have that mentality,” he said. “I will trade those situations for my guys staying aggressive out there.”
Finishing with 100 long balls and 93 stolen bases in 2008, the aggressive nature of the 2009 Tigers is clear.
Yet, what will that mean in regards to the team’s shot at closing out Rosenblatt Stadium’s final year in style?