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Hobbs Column: No reason to think these Tigers won't end up in Omaha

Last Modified: Saturday, May 04, 2013 10:25 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

BATON ROUGE — There were some crazy May weather reports in Louisiana this week, but those dire forecasts of the sky falling on top of LSU baseball were misguided at best.

That feared apocalypse was in the wake of last week’s normal turn of baseball fate, in this case the Tigers losing a Southeastern Conference series to South Carolina.

Relax.

The storm has passed. It turns out you can have an off week, lose two of three to a pretty good Gamecock team and still be as good as any team in the country right now.

South Carolina didn’t expose anything last week. And, no, apparently the Tigers didn’t peak too soon, as feared on many a message board.

They just lost two games. It happens. A week later, they have dusted off the lint and picked back up where they were before — what now will be referred to as the wake-up call. Everybody is smiling again after an impressive three-game sweep of Florida.

Doomsayers will now have to look at Saturday’s 18-6 pounding of Florida, in which the Gators pulled to within a dozen with four meaningless ninth-inning runs, as the potential moment the Tigers peaked too soon.

“You’re going to have your peaks and valleys,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said when the 19-hit demolition was done. “We haven’t had many valleys this year.

“Last week (against South Carolina) we had a great Friday, they had a great Sunday. The middle game (a 4-2 LSU loss) could have gone either way.”

Baseball tends to work that way.

“It’s never as bad as it seems,” Mainieri said. “I knew our team was a good team.”

At any rate, the purple and gold baseball world is back on its proper axis.

When the sun came out Saturday afternoon, dragging in some actual May weather kicking and screaming with it, LSU baseball looked a lot like it has looked virtually the entire season.

It looked like a complete team with no weaknesses, a team capable of going as far as baseball fate will allow it. It looked like the same team that has run roughshod through most of its schedule with plenty of pitching, pristine defense and a nice variety of ways to score runs.

They even run the bases fairly well, a major upgrade from past seasons.

After battling the elements as much as Florida to scuffle out the first two series victories, the Tigers greeted spring weather with their old swagger and cockiness.

They can find different ways to score.

The massive eight-run sixth inning Saturday, which followed a four-run fifth, started with a bunt single by Andrew Stephenson, got its key hit on a gap-double by Alex Bregman and was capped by a gargantuan grand slam by JaCoby Jones.

“That’s us,” first baseman Mason Katz said. “We’d been scratching all weekend. Today we really got after it.”

It looked like a team that didn’t get to be 43-6, 19-5 in the SEC by accident.

That really needs to be put in perspective, even with the disclaimer that this team’s ultimate legacy will be written in June.

But LSU is going to have to really screw up to avoid being the best regular-season team in the history of a school that has won six national championships.

Since college baseball went to the 56-game season in 1992, LSU’s best regular-season record has been 45-11.

That was the 1997 gorillas, which famously hit at least one home run in all 70 games they eventually played before hammering Alabama 13-6 in the national championship game, and finished the season 57-13.

And, if you want to put too much stock in Saturday’s shellacking, one way or the other, remember that the same 1997 team somehow managed to lose a regular-season game 28-2 to the same Alabama team.

But do the simple math. LSU has seven regular-season games remaining — three at Texas A&M, three at home against Ole Miss and a lone midweek game against UNO — needing to win three of them for the best-regular season in school history.

Winning all would be an unthinkable 50-6.

If you’re wondering, the last LSU team to finish with single-digit losses was the 1961 team that played 23 games and went 18-5.

Baseball has changed a bit since then.

Maybe the craziest thing this year is that they’re highly unlikely to win the SEC title.

LSU’s 19-5 conference record would normally would be cause to start charting magic numbers.

If the Tigers don’t win another SEC game, they will finish 19-11 — which was their conference record last year when they won the outright SEC championship.

As a general rule of thumb, 20-21 victories in a 30-game SEC schedule will do it. LSU’s best-ever record since the SEC went to 30 games was 22-7 (with a rainout). The all-time best is South Carolina’s 25-5 record in 2000 (LSU won its fifth national championship anyway).

But now Vanderbilt is having a historic season. The Commodores, 21-2, seem intent on going 28-2.

Sadly LSU and Vanderbilt don’t play, but SEC titles for LSU baseball are considered nice to have but not much to look at.

But the regular season is looking more and more like there’s no reason this team doesn’t end up in Omaha.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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