Tigers fight for survival

LSU a bubble team starting SEC tourney vs. Mississippi State

By Scooter Hobbs
shobbs@americanpress.com

Associated Press. LSU’s Hunter Feduccia (7), a Barbe graduate, celebrates his two-run double during a 5-2 victory over Ole Miss earlier this year in Oxford, Miss. LSU opens play in the SEC Tournament today at 4:30 p.m. against Mississippi State

Officially, the first round of the SEC baseball tournament is single elimination.

But LSU might be treating its opening game like double jeopardy.

A one-and-done loss could actually eliminate the Tigers from two tournaments — the SEC affair, which begins with four games today, and the ultimate goal of next week’s NCAA tournament.

LSU (33-23, 15-15 SEC) is very much on the bubble for the latter heading into its 4:30 p.m. tournament opener against Mississippi State (31-24, 15-15).

In recent years 15 conference wins has usually been good enough for the NCAA selection committee — except when it hasn’t.

So there’s no way of knowing for sure.

Mississippi State, on the other hand, despite a lower SEC seed than LSU (No. 9), the same conference record and a worse overall record, comes into Hoover, Ala., pretty certain it already has an NCAA bid locked down.

The sticking point for LSU?

The Tigers RPI is at No. 44, generally considered the murky area for an at-large bid (Mississippi State is at No. 26).

Adding to the first-day intrigue, the web site D1Baseball in its Monday projections had LSU in the NCAA field of 64.

But the Tigers were also one of three SEC teams, along with Texas A&M and Kentucky, listed among the “last five in.”

So it certainly wouldn’t hurt to win a game or two in Hoover.

The tournament bracket is not doing LSU any favors early.

Today’s winner will advance to Wednesday (when the tournament morphs into double-elimination) to face the nation’s No. 2-ranked team, Florida. But first the Tigers will have to get by the league’s hottest team — Mississippi State is fresh off of a weekend sweep of that same Florida team.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri Monday said he’ll treat today’s game as a must-win affair and pull out any stops necessary to advance.

He will start lefthander Nick Bush, who didn’t pitch last weekend at Auburn — Mainieri may have been already been looking ahead to the importance of this week — but started the final game of the previous weekend’s series and beat Alabama with six strong innings.

Mainieri even suggested that, if the situation warranted, he might use No. 1 starter Zack Hess to close a game (reprising the role that he thrived in at the College World Series in Omaha last June).

Another mark against LSU has been its troubles on the road, with only four wins away from Alex Box Stadium.

But if LSU has a traditional home away from home, it might be the Hoover Met in the upscale suburb of Birmingham.

LSU has won the SEC tournament six of the nine times Mainieri has taken the Tigers there, including three of the last five. Mainieri’s overall record in the tournament is a gaudy 31-6.

But most of those years, it was for grins and giggles — LSU, though often playing for seeding, was always safely in the NCAA tournament in advance of the trip.

TEAM COMPARISONS

LSU (33-23 / 15-15 SEC): .291 BA; 4.78 ERA; .979 FA.

Mississippi State (31-24 / 15-15 SEC): .276 BA; 4.17 ERA; .973 FA.

PITCHING MATCHUP

Today’s Game (4:30 p.m. / SECN)

LSU LH Nick Bush (1-1, 3.11 ERA, 37.2 IP, 14 BB, 36 SO) vs. MSU LH Konnor Pilkington (2-6, 4.30 ERA, 83.2 IP, 34 BB, 87 SO).

The LSU-Mississippi State winner will advance to face the nation’s No. 2-ranked team, Florida.

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