Back in the Box

LSU started its season 16-1. Then came Southeastern Conference play. More to the point, along came No. 1 ranked Florida into Baton Rouge.

The Tigers fell to the Gators in three straight games. Then they lost to Louisiana-Lafayette in a non-conference game at home. Then a road trip to Georgia produced two Tiger losses in three games.

All of a sudden from 16-1 and a Top 10 ranking, the Tigers had slipped to 17-7. This week a midweek 6-0 win against McNeese State may have signaled the ship being righted a bit. But that could be a stretch.

Until this weekend when the Tigers play Ole Miss, that won't be known. Beginning today at 7 p.m., LSU (18-7, 1-5 SEC) hosts the Rebels for three games.

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said LSU is still a very good baseball team despite their recent losses.

"I think it's a team that's obviously very talented, that got off to a great start," he said. "That's why our league is the No. 1 baseball conference in the country. It can humble you quickly. Not that they needed to be humbled.

"They played the No. 1 team in the country (Florida) and lost three games," Bianco continued. "That can happen to anybody."

Bianco said that's life in the SEC.

"The great thing about our league is that team that was ranked No. 1 loses two out of three at home (to South Carolina the next weekend). That happens every week for 10 straight weeks. I think (LSU) is a good club that hasn't played their best baseball the last two weeks and they play in the SEC. That happens sometimes."

As for his team, Ole Miss is coming off a disheartening 4-3 extra inning loss at Southern Mississippi. The Rebels are 3-3 in the SEC and 18-8 overall.

The Rebel's pitching has been good enough to win more games than they have. Hitting, scoring runs, and at times defensively, Ole Miss has had some breakdowns this season. Bianco said at the plate he's seen some better things lately.

Matt Crouse is 6-0 and will start tonight for the Rebels
Bruce Newman
"We're swinging better," he said. "If you watch the games and look at it statistically, there are some guys that are swinging better, and we're better as a whole. But we've still got to get a couple of guys swinging the bat and be a little more consistent."

Against Southern Mississippi, Ole Miss scored three runs through three innings but couldn't get any more runs all night. But it really wasn't all about a lack of production at the plate. The Rebels had a couple of base-running blunders at third base that might have plated important runs. In a close game, those would likely have made a difference.

Against the Golden Eagles, there were enough opportunities on the bases to win it. But there weren't enough runs on the scoreboard. Ole Miss outhit USM 9-8 in the contest.

Bianco said that while the offense still isn't as productive as it needs to be, he continues to sense it is coming around. He mentioned the coaches and players continuing to work to correct things, but he also feels that time and experience are a factor.

"Part of that ‘it's baseball' is working through slumps and working through those times you don't have confidence or don't feel as good," he said. "It's about getting back to the points where everybody talks about the zone or being hot (at the plate). We're trying to get to that point more often."

LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said his team has its sights set on the weekend at hand.

"We're looking forward to a great weekend of baseball against an excellent Ole Miss team," Mainieri said. "Mike Bianco has done a magnificent job in building their program, and they are a very well-coached team with a lot of talented players. Though we've had some very close losses in the league, our spirit isn't broken and we're ready to play at a high level."

Freshman right-hander Kurt McCune will start on the mound Friday for the Tigers, followed by freshman right-hander Kevin Gausman on Saturday and senior right-hander Ben Alsup on Sunday.

McCune fired a complete-game six-hitter last Friday to lead the Tigers to a 7-3 win over Georgia. McCune, in his first career SEC road start, limited Georgia to three runs on six hits with one walk and seven strikeouts as he recorded the first complete game of the season by an LSU pitcher.

McCune's outing marked the first complete game by a Tigers' hurler since May 29, 2010, when Ben Alsup recorded a complete-game victory over Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament.

The Tigers are batting .309 as a team with 48 doubles, six triples, 18 homers and 49 steals on the year. The LSU pitching staff has a 3.62 ERA with 184 strikeouts and a .231 opponent batting average.

LSU is ranked No. 2 in the SEC in team batting average, and the Tigers are No. 8 in the league in staff ERA.

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