LSU (27-6, 8-4 SEC), ranked No. 6 in the USA Today/ESPN and NCBWA polls, No. 7 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 8 by Baseball America, captured a 10-4 win over Tulane behind 16 hits on Wednesday night.
With last weekend’s loss at Auburn, LSU has won 16 of its last 18 SEC regular-season series, a run that began on April 25, 2008. The Tigers take to the Alabama series in second place in the SEC West, one game behind division-leading Arkansas. The Tigers are in third place in the overall league race, one game behind co-leaders Arkansas and South Carolina.
Alabama (27-6, 8-4 SEC) is in fifth place in the SEC West, four games behind the Razorbacks. The Tide dropped a 7-5 home decision to Samford on Tuesday before taking a 10-5 win over Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond on Wednesday night.
Tiger fans are encouraged to be in their seats at 6:45 p.m. for the “Ben McDonald Day” ceremony prior to Saturday’s first pitch. The No. 19 worn by the LSU All-America pitcher will be formally retired.
Matchups from the Hill
LSU – Jr. RHP Anthony Ranaudo (1-0, 2.40 ERA, 15.0 IP, 7 BB, 14 SO)
UA – So. LHP Adam Morgan (4-1, 3.97 ERA, 47.2 IP, 18 BB, 41 SO)
LSU – So. RHP Joey Bourgeois (3-1, 6.16 ERA, 38.0 IP, 23 BB, 27 SO)
UA – So. RHP Tyler White (3-2, 2.92 ERA, 24.2 IP, 8 BB, 26 SO)
LSU – So. LHP Chris Matulis (5-1, 3.82 ERA, 33.0 IP, 18 BB, 28 SO)
UA – Jr. RHP Jimmy Nelson (4-1, 3.40 ERA, 45.0 IP, 15 BB, 42 SO)
Calming Bama’s Bats
Charged with setting the tone for the weekend, junior right-hander Anthony Ranaudo (1-0, 2.40 ERA) will get the start on the hill for LSU on Friday night. Ranaudo faces a side that ranks fifth in the league in batting average (.308), 12th in home runs (23) and eighth in stolen bases (42).
First-year head coach Mitch Gaspard’s club is led by sophomore outfielder Taylor Dugas, who is hitting .425 with 10 doubles, three triples, 18 RBI and 13 steals. Sophomore outfielder Jon Kelton is batting .393 with 10 doubles and 23 RBI, while junior infielder Josh Rutledge is hitting .369 with 10 doubles, one triple, three home runs and 30 RBI.
Ranaudo, who - thanks to a stress reaction in his throwing arm that sidelined him for four week - earned just his first win of the season when the Tigers defeated Auburn last Friday, will be followed by Joey Bourgeois on Saturday and Chris Matulis on Sunday.
Mainieri swapped Matulis and Bourgeois this week after Matulis created trouble in an 11-7 loss Saturday at Auburn, walking five men in five innings and allowing six runs on six hits. Austin Ross, who was replaced by Matulis in the rotation, will continue relief work out of the bullpen.
Clutch… To Be, Or Not To Be
LSU’s bats came alive on Wednesday night, pounding out 16 hits in the six-run win over the Wave. More importantly, the woes with runners on base, which most recently helped deal the Tigers their first weekend series loss at Auburn since 1998, were put to rest. LSU went 8-for-14 with runners in scoring position and 4-for-8 with runners on and two outs.
“Why do some kids perform in the pressure situations on a given day, and on another day they don’t?” head coach Paul Mainieri asked himself. “I talked with the general manager of the Cubs and the head coach at Virginia, the No. 2 team in the country, and I told them that Saturday we were 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position and Sunday we went 3-for-10. Both of their responses were the same, which was ‘welcome to the club.’
“It is like an epidemic across the country.”
The Tide have recently battled similar issues. In Tuesday’s loss to Samford, Alabama stranded a season-high 13 runners on base. The previous mark was 12 runners left on base in a 10-5 win over Auburn on April 2.
For Mainieri, there is the reality that Gaspard’s club could find their streak this weekend, beginning on Friday evening.
“Alabama was certainly the best hitting team in our conference last season, and they have several of the same players back this year,” Mainieri said. “Our players are looking forward to a very competitive series.”
The Reliable Names
While a few Tigers have struggled to find consistency to this point, a glance up-and-down the lineup card quickly highlights the bats that haven’t calmed this spring.
Catcher Micah Gibbs leads all names at the plate, batting a team-high .407 with 50 hits, 33 RBI and 25 runs.
“I am just finding holes and putting good swings on it,” Gibbs said. “I am really following the scouting reports. I have tried to do too much in the last year and a half. This season I have tried to keep it simple and just hit it up the middle.”
Mikie Mahtook, who has filled in nicely for the injured Trey Watkins in the leadoff spot, is batting .361 with 43 hits, 28 RBI and 38 runs, good for most on the team. On April 6, in a midweek game against Alcorn State, the sophomore outfielder hit for the cycle.
“We all saw how Trey sets guys up, so I used what he did as an example,” Mahtook said. “I am just trying to get on base and set guys up. Last year I led off a few games, so I had a little experience doing it. But [last season] I changed my approach and tried to take more pitches. This time I kept my same approach, which is to get on base any way that I can.”
Junior centerfielder Leon Landry is batting .347 with five doubles, five triples, three home runs and 32 RBI.
LSU is No. 2 in the SEC in team batting average (.328), No. 2 in stolen bases (57) and sixth in home runs (37).