LSU May Not Be Tennessee, But It Has Quietly Become A Contender Again In SEC Baseball

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BATON ROUGE – LSU people were talking Omaha before the baseball season even started.

New coach Jay Johnson did take Arizona to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, last season, and surely he was going to pick up right where legendary coach Skip Bertman and the coach he replaced, Paul Mainieri, left off. Bertman won five national championships from 1991-2000 with 11 trips to the CWS, while Mainieri won the title in 2009 with five trips from 2008-17.

Then the Tigers got off to a 1-3 start in the Southeastern Conference and couldn’t pitch or field. They made 10 errors in three games at the Shriners College Classic at Minute Maid Park in Houston, losing two of three. Then, LSU committed six errors and lost two of three to Texas A&M in the SEC opening weekend at home.

LSU still comfortably leads the SEC in errors with 48, which is 11 more than the second worst fielding team in the league and puts the Tigers in the bottom 10 in the nation in miscues. LSU has committed two errors or more in 13 of its 32 games with two five-error games. The school record for errors in a season of 125 in 1993 may be in danger.

But LSU won the national championship in 1993, and after winning seven of its last 10 SEC games, including its last two road series, Omaha is looking like a possibility again.

“If we were going to be an Omaha team, we had to do something,” Johnson said Monday night on his weekly radio show.

That happened over the weekend when the Tigers swept three games at Mississippi State, 5-2, 4-3 and 13-3, to climb into a tie for fourth place in the SEC at 7-5 — one game behind second place Georgia and Arkansas at 8-4.

No. 1-ranked Tennessee is blowing everyone away at 31-1 and 12-0.

LSU (23-9) is No. 15 in the nation by D-1 Baseball going into a series at No. 6 Arkansas (23-7) on Thursday through Saturday with the first game at 7:30 p.m. eastern on SEC Network +, game two at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network and the finale at 2 p.m. on SEC Network +.

Mississippi State (18-15, 4-8 SEC) is just a shell of the team that beat Vanderbilt last year to win the national championship in Omaha, as it leads only last place Missouri (18-11, 3-9) in the standings.

But it was the way LSU won. The Tigers pitched well in all three games and committed zero errors in two of the wins. And all that still happened in front of raucous Dudy Noble Field, which drew 11,893, 14,228 and 10,515.

“We played great complementary baseball,” Johnson said after the 13-3 win. “Pitching spearheaded it, and there was a zero in the error column. And offensively, it was one of our best days of the year.”

There were 13 hits with three home runs and four other extra base hits.

In the 4-3 win on Saturday, LSU’s bullpen, which had struggled early in the season, blanked the Bulldogs over the final four innings. Third baseman Jacob Berry, a transfer from Arizona, hit his 10th homer of the season — a three-run shot in the first inning. And shortstop Jordan Thompson homered in the sixth for the 4-3 lead.

“I think our team is maturing a little bit, and it showed in the game today,” Johnson said. “We won two of the games with our backs to the wall because of pitching.”

On Friday, LSU trailed 2-1 after eight innings and two outs, but scored four in the top of the ninth for the 5-2 win as the bullpen shut State down over the last four innings. First baseman Tre Morgan drove in the first two runs on a single to center. Then center fielder Dylan Crews followed with his ninth home run of the season.

That was LSU’s first win in an opponent’s ballpark when behind after eight innings since a 10-8 win at Arkansas in 2017 when it trailed 8-5. That was also the last season LSU reached Omaha.

The Tigers are second to Tennessee in hitting in the SEC at .303 to .321 and are fourth in the league in home runs with 57 to the 79 by the Vols, who lead the nation. LSU pitching is also second in earned run average at 3.43 to Tennessee’s phenomenal 1.89, which leads the nation.

LSU also did something at Mississippi State that it had not done in 89 years of SEC baseball: relief pitchers won all three games of a series. Riley Cooper (2-1), Devin Fontenot (2-1) and Grant Taylor (4-0) did the honors.

“All of our relievers came in and did a phenomenal job,” Johnson said. “They showed a lot of poise in blocking out the crowd.”

The Tigers had not swept an SEC opponent on the road since Mississippi State – also in 2017. And it was their first sweep anywhere since 2019.

“We’ve just got to keep doing it,” Johnson said. “It’s a 56-game playoff. Arkansas is another program that’s ahead of us. People don’t like to hear that, but it’s true. We want to go catch them.”

So is Tennessee, but the good news is, the Vols are not on LSU’s regular season schedule.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

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