Questions arose, however, at the plate – from the team’s struggles against left-handers and on down the line. Yet, through two games in Omaha, the crew walked with a new swagger.
To steal a popular line from LSU head coach Paul Mainieri, “what more can you say about the kid?”
It’s the skipper’s favorite phrase to toss around when describing his senior ace, and for good reason.
Louis Coleman, the “missing piece to the 2009 puzzle,” as Mainieri would say, earned 13 wins on 22 appearances (14 starts) en route to Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year honors.
“I know I say it every time he pitches, but Louis is a great competitor,” Mainieri said. “He is going to give us his best effort every time he takes the mound.”
On the biggest stage of his aging college career, Coleman did just that.
In Monday’s winner’s bracket showdown against SEC West rival Arkansas – the Tigers’ second game in Omaha – the senior worked six innings of one-run, six-hit ball to put LSU one win away from next Monday’s Finals.
While it ended well for Coleman, the night began rocky - for both he and Arkansas right-hander Brett Eibner.
The Razorbacks’ story started with two men on and two outs in the opening frame. One pitch away from the dugout, Eibner fell victim to the home run swing of freshman Mikie Mahtook – seeing the Lafayette-native strike with a three-run shot to left.
“He threw the slider and left it up a little bit. I put a good swing on it and got enough of it,” Mahtook said.
Coleman’s back-to-back hits surrendered in the bottom of the frame brought Arkansas within two - courtesy of an Andy Wilkins sacrifice fly to Ryan Schimpf in left.
From there, the senior closed it down - allowing no runs on four hits and seven strikeouts for his 14th win on the year.
“Maybe he didn’t have electric stuff to start the game, but by the middle innings, he was tremendous,” Mainieri said. “He got better and stronger as the game went on, and we gave him plenty of run support.”
Schimpf, who has been red-hot since his arrival to Rosenblatt Stadium, was 1-for-2 with a walk, driving in the lone run of the second frame on a double to center field.
Early runs, which had come few and far between for the Tiger aces all season, were flowing early for the second day in a row.
“Our hitting at times has been awesome and at times not so good,” Mainieri said. “Tonight, you saw what we’re capable of… It seemed like just about everybody was throwing up some good at-bats.
“When we’re clicking, we’re a good offensive team one through nine.”
Thanks to Coleman and Arkansas right-hander T.J Forrest, the waves at the plate calmed after the second and into the sixth – seeing no runs scored on a combined four hits across the frames.
By the middle of the sixth, Forrest seemed to be wearing down. And, the most unlikely of Tiger bats – Austin Nola – made him pay.
The freshman, who entered the game batting .233 with just a pair of home runs, blasted a 2-0 pitch over the left field fence – putting LSU out front 5-1.
The Razorbacks escaped the inning after four more runs were tacked on – highlighted by Blake Dean’s two-run blast over the right field fence, his 16th on the year.
For the second outing in a row, the Tigers looked like Omaha’s best team.
“I thought it was a really outstanding effort in a lot of ways,” Mainieri said. “These kids are balancing focus and energy … I had a feeling we would come out and play well.”
While Anthony Ranaudo had some of his worst stuff in Saturday’s opener against Virginia, LSU got the win behind a mixture of six arms and 14 hits.
Add 13 hits and a dominating performance from the mound on Monday, and the Tigers look near unstoppable.
“It is a coach’s dream the way these guys are conducting themselves right now,” Mainieri said. “They are a very confident group.”
With the Tigers set to face the winner of Wednesday’s Arkansas vs. Virginia contest at the end of the week, the goal according to Mainieri is straightforward.
“We’ll take a few days off now and get ready for Friday.”