Glenn Guilbeau / GANNETT LOUISIANA
BATON ROUGE – Last Tuesday morning when the LSU baseball team woke up, it had lost four of its previous five games – two at Texas A&M, one to Alabama and one to rain at LSU.
The Tigers were in sixth place in the Southeastern Conference at 14-11-1 and in danger of having to play in the single-elimination, early round of the SEC Tournament on Tuesday, May 20. A loss there and it would be assured of traveling in the NCAA Regional round of the postseason – something LSU has not done since 2010.
LSU was void of a No. 3 starter it could hang its cap on. It was hitting .271 on the season and had scored all of eight runs in its previous four games – or two a game.
Northwestern State was to be in town last Tuesday night. The Demons were 30-21 and contending in the Southland Conference at 18-9.
The start of the game was delayed 35 minutes by more rain in Baton Rouge. After the Tigers took an 11-0 lead after two, another 35-minute rain delay ensued. Then LSU exploded for 16 more runs and a 27-0 victory on 23 hits as lightning ended the game with two on and two outs in the LSU sixth. It could have been 33-0. Meanwhile, LSU’s staff also combined for a no-hitter. The margin of victory was a school record as the Tigers hit five homers, including grand slams by Alex Bregman and Tyler Moore.
And the Demons are a good team. They finished the regular season 31-24 overall and 19-11 in the Southland for a third place tie.
The Tigers went 23-of-41 at the plate and raised their average from .271 to .278 in one game. Neither rain nor a trip to Auburn the next day stopped them. The Tigers beat Auburn 10-0, 11-3 and 8-1 Thursday through Saturday, going 38-for-116 at the plate for a .327 average.
It may have also found again its No. 3 starter as Kyle Bouman, who was the third starter early in the season, threw five innings of one-run, one-walk, four-hit ball for the victory Saturday.
“I think Kyle Bouman emerged today,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said after the win. “Of all the good things that happened today, that was the most important thing.”
No, Auburn is not a very good team. It finished 28-28 and 10-20 for 13th in the SEC and did not reach the tournament. But still, LSU has played teams as bad as Auburn this season and not played as well, particularly offensively.
When LSU (40-14, 17-11-1 SEC) woke up Monday morning, it was hitting .388 (61-for-157) and scoring 14 runs a game over its last four games. The Tigers raised their team batting average a full 10 points to .281 in the process. In the last four games, LSU pitching allowed only four runs for a combined 56-4 week-long victory. Oh, and the defense made one error.
LSU now finds itself as the No. 3 team in the final overall SEC standings behind only Florida (21-9) and Ole Miss (19-11), which it beat two out of three in mid-April, entering the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. They will not play Tuesday.
The Tigers play at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the SEC Tournament against the winner of Tuesday’s 9:30 a.m. game between No. 6 seed Vanderbilt (40-16, 17-13 SEC) and No. 11 seed Tennessee (31-22, 12-18 SEC).
Mainieri preaches finishing strong and tends to be a Norman Vincent Peale in spikes, but he could not have envisioned this final flourish in his wildest imagination. “This whole week, they just played terrific in every phase,” he said.
And not a moment too soon. The Tigers still must play deep into the SEC Tournament to soften large numbers working against their chances of hosting an NCAA Regional. LSU’s RPI (ratings percentage index) numbers are still in the mid-teens, and its strength of schedule ranking is close to No. 50 in the nation and last in the SEC.
As fun as that 27-0 win was, the Tigers do not want that to be their last home game of 2014. To play in Alex Box Stadium again this season, LSU may need another week like the week that was.