LSU left to play for SEC seeding

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, May 19, 2022

LSU no doubt bobbled away whatever chance it had to host an NCAA Tournament regional when the Tigers were swept at home last weekend by Ole Miss.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing for the Tigers (34-18, 14-13 Southeastern Conference), who finish the regular season with three games at Vanderbilt (35-16, 14-13) beginning tonight.

LSU lost three of its five SEC home series at Alex Box Stadium, while the Tigers go to Nashville, Tennessee, having won three of their previous four conference road trips.

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Before the Ole Miss debacle, the projections had the Tigers hosting a regional. This week the website sees the Tigers headed to Lubbock, Texas, as the No. 2 seed at Texas Tech’s regional, opening play against No. 3 seed Arizona, LSU head coach Jay Johnson’t former team.

That’s down the road. This week is mostly jostling for seeding for next week’s SEC Tournament.

The Tigers did bounce back from the lost weekend by beating Northwestern State 19-7 Tuesday night. It was hard to read too much into that rebound as the Demons, who open Southland Conference Tournament play today in Lake Charles, used none of their front-line pitchers in a game halted by the 10-run mercy rule in the middle of the seventh inning.

The bounce-back was most noteworthy for some late cameo appearances by a pair of injured Tigers — and an NCAA record.

Despite the mercy rule limiting the Tigers to six innings at the plate, the 10 LSU batters who were hit by Demons pitches — none apparently delivered with any malice — tied the single-game NCAA record.

“We’ve stressed the free base,” said Johnson, whose Tigers are second in the nation with 107 HBPs, “I did not know about the record. We’ll take it.”

More significant were the late appearances of LSU’s best offensive player, Jacob Berry, and its best defensive catcher, Alex Milazzo.

Berry, who’s batting .378 with 15 home runs, has missed the last seven games since fracturing the tip of his right middle finger during pregame warmups two weeks ago.

Berry, a switch-hitter who finds it easier to deal with the injury batting right-handed, drew a walk in the final inning. With two of Vanderbilt’s three starters being left-handers, he might could be used as the designated hitter in those games — or all three, just not batting from the left side.

Milazzo, who had played in one game since the Minute Maid Classic in early March, could also be a welcome addition for the weekend.

He’s the best option behind the plate, where the Tigers have struggled in his absence, although both Hayden Travinski and Tyler McManus are more dangerous hitters.

But Milazzo could come in handy as Vanderbilt leads the SEC by a wide margin with 79 stolen bases while being caught nine times.

He also singled in his pinch-hitting appearance Tuesday before catching the final inning.