LSU's Jordy Snikeris, left, is congratulated by teammates Mason Katz and Austin Nola, No. 36, after hitting a two-run home run in the ninth inning against Ole Miss. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, May 24, 2012 7:59 PM
HOOVER, Ala. — LSU’s little 5-foot-6 dust mop, Tyler Hanover, was smeared with red clay from head to toe, mixed in with some impressive grass stains, and he was grinning through some caked mud around his lips and peering out from under a well-worn, sweat-soaked ball cap.
“Now that’s what a ball player is supposed to look like,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said as Hanover stood up and shook off more dust before leaving the postgame interview podium at the SEC baseball tournament.
“He stinks,” Mainieri added.
Hanover’s teammates were a bit more presentable perhaps, and certainly they brought less of the dirt and turf of Regions Park back to the hotel with them than Hanover tracked in following an 11-2 walloping of Ole Miss Thursday.
But Mainieri might just have well have stood back from the scene after the game and proclaimed:
That’s what an LSU team is supposed to look like.
Or, at least, that is what this particular team is supposed to look like when it’s clicking along at a fine hum.
The Tigers surely didn’t stink.
You had some vintage Kevin Gausman on the mound, if not quite totally dominant, then efficient enough to keep Ole Miss off balance all day long while the Tigers chipped away at what was left of Ole Miss’ pitching staff before dropping the hammer with a five-run eighth inning.
They did it with 17 hits spread throughout the order and off a deep bench. Four of them weren’t singles, but they bunched enough of the little ones together to eventually match their largest margin of victory over an SEC opponent this season.
They played flawless defense, as usual, and this time, wonder of wonders, there weren’t even any serious incidents on the base paths.
They even got down three sacrifice bunts without getting anybody hurt, one of them a successful safety squeeze which, given LSU’s penchant for hijinks there, was really playing with fire and tempting fate and begging for a full-blown disaster.
But the Tigers pulled it off with no casualties.
It was convenient the way Arby Fields, who’s been struggling with the bat, kept coming up in bunting situations thanks to Hanover doing the dirty work batting in front of him with four hits.
Fields put down two sacrifice bunts and, when he misfired twice on another occasion, accomplished the same thing with a slow roller to the right side that advanced Hanover from second to third.
LSU even hit a home run (barely) out of this canyon, even if Jordy Snikeris’ two-run shot for the game’s final runs was just padding.
But that’s just about the way it will basically look if the Tigers are to make it to Omaha for the College World Series in the coming weeks.
They did, by the way, clear up one important detail for that journey with Thursday’s victory.
If there was any doubt before — and there probably wasn’t — but if there was any possible excuse the NCAA tournament selection committee might have used to deny the SEC regular-season champions one of the eight national seeds, it disappeared when the Tigers avoided, as Hanover put it, “going two-and-’cue” from Hoover.
“I would like to think winning this game would erase any doubt there may have been, if there was any,” Mainieri said.
So if the Tigers play another road game after leaving Hoover, it will be in their traditional summer home in Omaha.
For now, though, they’d like to hang around Hoover for a while. Never mind that the rest of this tournament doesn’t really mean squat in the big picture for LSU.
“We love Hoover a lot,” Mainieri said, and what’s not to like as the SEC does it up right and quarters all the teams in the same luxury hotel (which probably needed a good dusting after Hanover traipsed home through the lobby).
“We love the Wynfrey Hotel, the mall (attached to it). We especially love the police escorts. We love playing here,” Mainieri explained.
It does seem to agree with them. Mainieri has brought three of his previous teams here — LSU missed this party in 2007 and 2011 — and all three went home with the championship trophy.
Even though they’re still climbing out of the losers’ bracket thanks to Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Mississippi State, the Tigers have as good a chance as anybody still left.
Part of it is the new tournament format, which as of Saturday becomes single elimination. One of Mainieri’s tournament titles came after losing the opener and then having to win five straight.
This time it’s only four straight. Kentucky hasn’t lost yet, but if LSU beats Mississippi State today, the Tigers and Wildcats will play one game Saturday with the winner advancing to Sunday’s final.
The trade-off for Kentucky, I guess, is that they get a day off today to rest up for it.
More importantly, though, LSU isn’t going to run out of pitching (as Ole Miss apparently did two-and-half games into its stay).
The Tigers have their No. 3 starter, Ryan Eades, to pitch today. If they advance to play Saturday, they’ll mix and match for nine innings from a deep bullpen. If there’s a championship game to play, they’ll have the luxury of their No. 2 starter, Aaron Nola, who threw two perfect innings Wednesday.
Pretty good deal if you can get it.
And apparently LSU, even though it means little, wants to close that deal.
The Tigers can worry about washing uniforms later.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at email@example.com