Two wins to clinch SEC West
The Southeastern Conference schedule maker certainly had a flair for the dramatic this baseball season.
The timing was impeccable as both of the league’s divisions will be decided by head-to-head matchups when the final weekend of the regular season gets underway today.
LSU being in the thick of it, head coach Paul Mainieri said, is the reason his guys come to the school in the first place.
The Tigers (36-17, 18-9 SEC), ranked as high as No. 5 in the country, travel to Starkville with a one-game lead in the SEC West over host Mississippi State (34-19, 17-10).
“It’s the type of weekend you want to be involved in as a college baseball player or coach,” Mainieri said.
It’s pretty simple: the winner of the three-game series wins the West.
The East division gets the same deal where Kentucky (37-16, 18-9) trails Florida (39-14, 19-8) by one game heading into their series in Gainesville.
“This is the time of the year that separates the men from the boys,” Mainieri said. “You can’t be afraid of this time of year; you’ve got to embrace the challenge. I think our guys are ready for it.”
The Tigers would need some help to claim the overall conference title.
Both Florida and Kentucky took series wins over LSU. So the only scenario that would give the Tigers the overall title is to sweep Mississippi State while Kentucky takes two of three (but does not sweep) Florida.
Mainieri said his team’s focus will be in Starkville, which may have a boring nightlife, but offers one of the great atmospheres for college baseball at Dudy Noble Field.
“The atmosphere at Dudy Noble Field is awesome,” Mainieri said. “In past years our players have really embraced the atmosphere and performed at a high level. The rivalry has a long, rich tradition, and this weekend should be electric.”
LSU has won 11 of the last 13 series with the Bulldogs, including the last six in Starkville.
“You’ve worked every day since November to get to this point,” Mississippi State coach Andy Cannizaro said. “You have a chance to do something incredible.”
In November Cannizaro was working for LSU as Mainieri’s hitting coach.
But when previous State coach John Cohen was named athletic director that month, Cannizaro left LSU to take over the MSU baseball program.
LSU goes into the pivotal series having won eight its last nine conference games and the Tigers’ are coming off of probably their best weekend of the season with a sweep of Auburn.
“I like where we’re at right now,” Mainieri said. “I feel like the Tigers are rolling.”
Mainieri would certainly take another weekend of mound work like he got last week. His starters allowed two earned runs in 242⁄3innings, highlighted by Alex Lange’s five-hit shutout while No. 3 starter Eric Walker took a no-hitter into the eighth inning.
“When they pitch like that, it doesn’t make it easy, but it makes everything crisp and gives your offense time to get clicking and make things happen,” Mainieri said.
LSU even got through the midweek unscathed — a rarity this season — with a 9-3 victory over Northwestern State.
The Tigers will have to slow down the odds-on favorite as the conference player of the year in State’s Brent Rooker. He is on pace to win the SEC triple crown — he leads in batting average (.400), RBIs (68) and home runs (20).
The Tigers survived a scare Tuesday night in a 9-3 win over Northwestern State when Greg Deichmann, who’s second in the SEC in home runs (17) and RBIs (60), collided with the Demons pitcher running to first and went down in a heap, grabbing his knee, in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Deichmann left the game, but Mainieri said afterward that he was fine, pain-free by the time he got back to the dugout.
Auburn at LSU
6 p.m. Today, SECN
LSU, Jr. RHP Alex Lange (6-5, 2.92 ERA, 83.1 IP, 28 BB, 100 K’s) vs. MSU, Jr. RH Konnor Pilkington (6-4, 3.44 ERA, 81 IP, 35 BB, 91 K’s).
6:30 p.m. Friday
LSU, Sr. LH Jared Poch? (8-3, 3.16 ERA, 79.2 IP, 25 BB, 50 K’s) vs. MSU, K’s. RH Denver McQuary (2-2, 3.89 ERA, 39.1 IP, 32 BB, 31 K’s).
3:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU
LSU, Fr. RH Eric Walker (6-1, 3.77 ERA, 74 IP, 19 BB, 59 K’s) vs. MSU, K’s. RH Jacob Billingsley (1-2, 5.26 ERA, 37.2 IP, 27 BB, 42 K’s).