Pitching with a purpose

After Austin Ross fired arguably one of his best pitching performances of the year, Anthony Ranaudo countered with a gem of his own. With Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year Louis Coleman set to take the hill on Sunday, the Tiger arms look as hot as they have been all season.

When his pitcher gets better as the game goes on, a manager must think he had died and gone to baseball heaven.

“I have never seen anything like it,” said LSU head coach Paul Mainieri.

That is high praise given the skipper’s 20-plus years of college baseball experience.

For a sophomore who fired nine innings of three-hit, two-run ball in front of a postseason capacity crowd, however, the praise seems warranted.

“I have never coached a kid who gets better as the game goes on like Anthony does,” Mainieri said. “He has done that several times this year, where he struggles and then finds a rhythm and gets in a groove. I didn’t know he had it in him when we recruited him, and I think that tells you how much he has developed since coming to LSU.”

Micah Gibbs, who has been behind the plate for Ranaudo on all of his appearances this season, labeled the performance as one the sophomore’s best outings to date.

“He had his complete game going, from throwing strikes to working each batter,” he said. “I was speechless with how well he picked up as the game moved into the later innings. I think back and only remember the Auburn game as one that rivaled his showing tonight. To strike out 14 batters in front of a crowd like this, it says a lot.”

For an emotional pitcher like Ranaudo, crowd support can quickly become a best friend.

“This atmosphere was awesome,” he said. “It was fun to be a part of. To be a starter in the first round of the Regionals in the new Alex Box Stadium, that was just awesome.”

In the opposite dugout, Bears head coach Steve Smith could only watch with wonder.

“If there is a difference between a horse and a stallion, I would call [Anthony Ranaudo] a stallion,” he said. “I just thought it was a tremendous effort on his part. We went into the game knowing that you could look at the numbers and know a lot about the guy. When he has got that many strikeouts, you know he has good stuff.”

Upping his total strikeout count to a team-high 152, it seemed the sophomore had everything working on the night.

Of course, the sign of a true competitor, Ranaudo was quick to point out a flaw.

“I was hitting my spots, so I was disappointed I had 130 pitches,” he said.

No matter, for when the game’s 131st pitch came with a 3-2 LSU lead in the bottom of the tenth, Matty Ott was there to close the deal.

Earning his 15th save on the season – an LSU record – the freshman proved once again that getting to the game’s final inning with the lead spells doom for the opposition.

“The kid has unbelievable command,” Mainieri said. “What can I even say to describe him anymore. He earned All-American honors last week and broke the save record tonight. I just don’t know where we would be without him.”

With two wins behind them, the Tigers take to Sunday’s title game with one final weekend arm in the tank.

Fortunately, it is a good one.

Coleman, who sports a team-best 11-2 record with a 2.84 ERA, is set to take the hill with hopes of a Super Regional trip hanging in the balance.

Confidence in the outcome, said Gibbs, is held with little doubt.

“For us to get through these games and to Louis without a loss is big,” he said. “Anthony and Austin did just what they needed for us to take the Regional how we wanted. It is a great feeling.”

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