BATON ROUGE – The LSU baseball team was still in afterglow mode Monday after possibly saving its season from disaster over the final 12 innings of a three-game series at Arkansas over the weekend.
After losing the opener, 9-3, Friday night for their sixth loss in nine games, the Tigers appeared on the verge of losing a third straight Southeastern Conference series Saturday night as the Razorbacks held an 8-1 lead after six innings. But LSU erupted for one in the seventh, three in the eighth and five in the ninth for a 10-8 win, then won the series on Sunday, 2-0, behind freshman right-hander Eric Walker, who allowed four hits through nine innings.
The Tigers (22-11, 7-5 SEC) jumped back into the top 10 in the major polls on Monday, including a No. 8 position in USA Today after a No. 13 position a week ago.
“I’m still digesting this weekend,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said with a big exhale after being asked about playing the Interstate 10-rival Louisiana Ragin Cajuns (18-13-1, 7-4-1 Sun Belt Conference) at 7 p.m. Tuesday on Cox Sports Television in the 14th annual Wally Pontiff Classic at the former Zephyr Field in Metairie. (The stadium name was recently changed to “The Shrine on Airline” when the New Orleans Zephyrs minor league baseball team changed its name to the New Orleans Baby Cakes.)
The LSU-UL series has delivered a lot to digest in recent years. The Tigers have won four straight since losing 4-1 in a rain shortened, six-inning game at Alex Box Stadium in 2014, but all of those have been decided by three runs or less. In the 2015 Super Regional at Alex Box Stadium, the Tigers won the first game, 4-3, on a walk-off, solo home run by Chris Sciambra in the bottom of the ninth. Cajuns’ pinch-hitter Brenn Conrad had just tied the game, 3-3, in the top of the ninth off LSU ace Alex Lange. LSU won the next day, 6-3, to reach Omaha, Nebraska, and the College World Series.
“It’s always an intense game,” Mainieri said. “I’m sure it’s going to be another great ballgame, and I hope we play well. I’m sure it will be a hard-nosed, hustling game.”
LSU beat the Cajuns, 8-6, in the Pontiff Classic in the 2015 regular season and won 8-5 last season in the Pontiff Classic, which is a charity game in honor of former LSU third baseman Wally Pontiff, who died on July 24, 2002, of an abnormal heart at the age of 21 two years after helping lead the Tigers to the 2000 national championship as a freshman. A native of Metairie who went to Jesuit High, Pontiff was drafted in the 21st round of the 2002 Major League Baseball Draft by Oakland, but passed away several weeks later.
The Pontiff Classic, which began in 2003, usually draws a capacity crowd of 10,000 or close to it.
“It’s a midweek game,” UL coach Tony Robichaux said. “But it gives us a chance to go into a Regional type atmosphere.”
The Cajuns are in second in the West division of the Sun Belt at 7-4-1 after splitting a two-game series at defending national champion Coastal Carolina over the weekend, winning 1-0 Friday before a 9-8 loss on Saturday. The Sunday game ended in a 7-7 tie because of a travel deadline for the Cajuns out of Conway, South Carolina.
LSU has dropped four in-state games this season to UNO twice and to McNeese State and Tulane, but Mainieri hopes his team captured something over the weekend with the back-to-back wins at Arkansas after six losses in nine games.
“When you come from behind to win a game like we did on Saturday, how can that do anything but build the confidence of your team? You’re going to find a way,” he said.
Despite a recent slump, LSU finds itself one game out of first place in the SEC West and in the overall standings going into a home series Thursday through Saturday against unranked Ole Miss (20-12, 6-6 SEC).
“I told our team, ‘Look where we are,’” Mainieri said. “We’re ranked ninth in the country – the highest ranked SEC team in the country. Our RPI (Ratings Percentage Index used by the NCAA for postseason host sites) is No. 21. We’re within striking distance. We’re one game out of first place, and in my opinion we haven’t even come close to playing our best baseball yet. Now what happens when we start putting it all together? I just think our best days are ahead of us.”
TUESDAY NIGHT'S PITCHERS: Freshman right-hander Matthew Beck (1-0, 0.69 ERA), LSU, vs. freshman right-hander Jack Burk (2-3, 2.23 ERA), UL, 7 p.m., Cox Sports Television.
Glenn Guilbeau covers LSU sports for the USA Today Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter at @LSUBeatTweet. Coverage of LSU and commentary by Guilbeau supported by Hebert’s Town & Country Automobile Dealer in Shreveport located at 1155 East Bert Kouns Loop. Research your next Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep or Ram at http://hebertstandc.com/.)