LSU rotation is set

The LSU arms have flourished in 2009 under the tutelage of LSU associate head coach David Grewe – praised by Paul Mainieri as the nation's best pitching coach. With Baton Rouge home to a Regional once more, Grewe and the LSU staff are set to open their postseason run Friday against cross-town foe Southern.

With a combined 24 wins on the year, the trio of Anthony Ranaudo, Louis Coleman and Austin Ross have been solid from start: dropping just one weekend series – Tennessee – during their Southeastern Conference run.

The postseason, however, holds a new weight. Now, every weekend must fall in the Tigers’ favor.

With the Jaguars first up on the docket; the Tigers will send Ross – a right-handed sophomore with a 5-7 record and 5.15 ERA – to the hill.

“I think that Austin gives us the best chance to not just win the game, but for the team to win the tournament,” Grewe said. “We have to do what it takes to move on, and at this point Austin is what we need.”

The test will be tall. Southern, which captured the SWAC Tournament title last weekend, is hitting .313 as a team with 56 homers and 39 stolen bases.

Yet, what is expected of Ross – who got the first win of his career against the Jaguars during seven shutout innings in relief on April 1, 2008 – will be nothing short of a dominating effort.

“The last game he threw - in the SEC Tournament - was not his best performance, and it surely was not well enough for us to win,” Grewe said. “We need him to do great here, and I expect him to do extremely well.”

While Jaguar head coach Roger Cador is opting to keep the Tigers in the dark as to who will take the hill opposite Ross, Grewe expects to see a familiar face.

“I think the rumor is that they are going to throw [Chase] Richard,” he said. “If that is the case, I like our matchup. I think we are geared up for a good one.”

Richard, who owns a 6-3 record and a 4.41 ERA, allowed four runs on eights hits and three walks over four innings of work during the two sides February 25 bout – which LSU took 11-5.

On the other side of the Jaguars, the competition continues.

No. 2 seed Minnesota (39-17), who finished second in the Big Ten, last visited Baton Rouge in the 2001 Regional. No. 3 seed Baylor (29-24), on a less conventional path than most, dropped its’ final 10 regular season games before fighting into the Big 12 Tournament title game.

With the slates wiped clean, however, the Tigers see nothing but another opponent standing between Baton Rouge and Omaha.

That being said, Grewe likes where his staff stands with regards to getting through the weekend and into the Super Regional round of play.

“Minnesota and Baylor are both good teams, but we will be in a good spot with the ability to throw Ranaudo and Coleman against those guys,” Grewe said. “I think it will be a good set up. No matter who we play next - if we are fortunate enough to win against Southern, Ranaudo will throw.

“We want to go right with him and then Coleman just in case it gets to a point where we lose one of the first two games.”

If help is needed, as evidenced in Hoover, the Tiger pen will be waiting on a call.

Sitting in the wings will be a number of arms – perhaps none bigger than the trio of Daniel Bradshaw, Nolan Cain and Ryan Byrd, all of whom had key wins in the Tigers’ run to the SEC Tournament title.

That performance, Grewe said, might be the final spark the team needed to take their show back to Omaha.

“The confidence level of those three guys is really high right now,” he said. “That is a good thing. We need their confidence to be where it is at right now. They are fired up.”

The final piece to the puzzle, he said, has been the emergence of the youngest arm in the mix.

“Matty Ott brought everything together,” Grewe said. “We can’t even consider him a freshman anymore with what he has done. The pressure situations – like Coleman’s Friday night game in Hoover – that he has stepped into and succeeded in are huge for us.

“His presence made this team go.”

How far LSU goes, of course, begins with a single step.

Ross will take that step Friday at 1 p.m. when he takes the mound against Southern.

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