BATON ROUGE -- No matter the sport, LSU hasn’t had much success with Ole Miss over the past year. So with hopes of bucking the trend in Oxford two weekends ago, a series sweep by the home team didn’t sit well with the Tigers.
The following Tuesday against New Orleans, LSU appeared flat. The top steps of the dugout were occupied by only a few. As head coach Paul Mainieri put it, the “environment was sterile,” and the Tigers were dealt a defeat as a result.
Florida then swept LSU last weekend, giving the Tigers their first seven-game losing streak since 1982.
During a team meeting on Sunday, Mainieri put his foot down. He rallied the team behind the mentality that losing was no longer an option.
The skipper called Monday’s practice one of the best on the season, a preparation period that paid obvious dividends in the team’s Tuesday night victory.
For seniors like Blake Dean, the approach since Sunday’s seventh straight loss has been built around keeping the club loose.
“We wanted to get our work done, but not overanalyze the situation.”
Dean and Mikie Mahtook became the story of the night, each belting a home run in the sixth inning that helped LSU slingshot past SLU for good.
“We needed a win, and you need your superstars to step forward,” Mainieri said. “They came through for us in the clutch. That’s why we are going to go home happy.”
The pair combined for 5-of-9 hitting, three runs and three RBI. Dean’s single and steal in the first inning set up Alex Edward’s only RBI of the day, a double off SLU starter Josh Janway. A double by Leon Landry drove in Gibbs to move the score to 2-0.
A string of walks and singles allowed SLU to answer in the top of the third, putting one of the lone blemishes on LSU starter Austin Ross’ card. Ross went four innings and allowed three earned runs on four hits. All three runs, three of the four hits and both walks by Ross came during the third frame.
“I wish I had a crystal ball just to see which bad inning Ross was going to have,” Mainieri said.
After rocky relief showings by Joey Bourgeois and Ben Alsup in the fifth and sixth, the Lions were threatening. Cass Hargis led off Bourgeois’ night with a triple. Justin Boudreaux followed with an RBI single. Hargis struck again in the sixth with an RBI single to right field.
Though SLU kept runners on the bases, they managed just two runs over the two frames that the LSU bullpen suffered.
“There were times were Southeastern had taken the lead and was trying to pull away but we were able to turn a couple of double plays,” Mainieri said.
With a spark from the strong play among the infielders, LSU came out swinging in the sixth. Mahtook, the first batter of the frame, sent a ball deep over the left field fence. After a double by Austin Nola, SLU pulled Janway from the hill and turned to Justin Schneider.
Dean, the first batter Schneider faced, saw his 15th home run on the year sail over the right field fence to extend the lead to 7-5.
Back-to-back singles by Landry and Matt Gaudet in the seventh helped move runners into scoring position once more, seeing LSU push the advantage to 9-5 on a passed ball and sacrifice fly by Tyler Hanover.
Anthony Ranaudo relieved Paul Bertuccini in the ninth, striking out the first two batters he faced before he allowed a pair of hits and gave up a walk to load the bases. Bertuccini went 1.2 innings, allowed no hits and struck out two.
“[Bertuccini] did a great job of bridging that gap for us,” said LSU pitching coach David Grewe. “He has been challenged to step up and extend.”
When the game ended with the tying run at the plate, the streak had officially been snapped.
“I am just happy for the kids to get that monkey off their back,” Mainieri said. “It has been a tough stretch. It really tested us.”
Alsup, who went one inning and allowed one earned run on one hit, got the victory to move to 3-0. Janway, who pitched 5.2 innings and allowed six earned runs and double-digit hits, fell to 3-1.