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LSU’s hot bats meet SEC’s best pitchers

Last Modified: Friday, April 12, 2013 11:29 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Among the “wow” factor notes and anecdotes for the streaking LSU baseball team, add this one to the list:

The Tigers, No. 1 or No. 2 in the nation depending on which poll you follow, have batted around in the first inning of their last three games.

Sending nine batters to the plate to open a game might be a tough act to keep going, particularly when the Tigers (32-2, 11-1 Southeastern Conference) travel to Arkansas to face the nation’s best pitching staff in a three-game series beginning tonight.

LSU, which has gotten quite a spark since inserting junior college transfer Sean McMullen into the leadoff spot, leads the SEC in hitting by a wide margin at .322. The Tigers have the league’s top two hitters in Mason Katz (.447) and Alex Bregman (.444), with Katz also leading the league home runs with 13 and the nation with 60 RBIs.

The first six spots in the LSU order are all hitting .326 or better and the seventh, JaCoby Jones (.243), raised his average 55 points in the last week.

But the 10th-ranked Razorbacks (24-10, 8-4) will be waiting with their 1.56 team ERA (LSU is second at 2.39).

“They have a tremendous pitching staff, probably the best in the country,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Every year it seems the SEC West comes to down to LSU and Arkansas.”

It’s the first of back-to-back weekends in which the Tigers will travel to face their nearest challengers in the West Division. Alabama, also 8-4, hosts LSU next weekend. Although leading the West by three games, the Tigers are tied in the overall standings with Vanderbilt, which hosts Missouri this weekend.

“It’s a tough environment and we certainly respect their program,” Mainieri said. “But we’re not going to be in awe of anyone.”

The Tigers have won 14 consecutive games, which includes nine straight in SEC play, but Mainieri said he doesn’t really expect to bat around in the first inning every time.

But he does like the fact that in the odd three-game streak — Sunday against Kentucky, twice in midweek wins against Southern —  the parade to the plate has been in response to a rare run being given up by the LSU pitching staff in the top of the inning.

“That’s something we take pride in,” Mainieri said. “There’s certain times in the game that bring out the best in you or the worst in you when you have to respond.”

Last Sunday, for instance, the Tigers were facing the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week in Kentucky’s Corey Littrell, who was coming off a shutout.

“Had he carved us up in the first inning, all of sudden he may settle into a rhythm, you don’t know what might happen,” Mainieri said.

Instead, the Tigers led 5-1 after the first inning and never looked back in completing their third straight series sweep.

“I’m really proud of the way we respond to challenges that come our way.”

But the Razorbacks’ pitching, beginning with Barrett Astin (2-1, 2.31) starting against LSU ace Aaron Nola (5-0, 2.55 ERA) tonight, could present a whole different challenge.

“I’m a scoreboard watcher,” Mainieri said. “I know we’ve got a three-game lead over Arkansas. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But we’ve put ourselves in a position that if we take care of business, we can win this division, maybe the (overall) SEC too. But we’ve still got a long way to go.”

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