LSU Finds A Way Again, Bolsters Chances To Host Regional
On paper, the matchup Friday at the SEC Tournament didn’t look good for Louisiana State. The Tigers were facing Mississippi State with a trip to the semifinals on the line. But the Bulldogs had played one less game in Hoover and were starting righthander JT Ginn, their No. 2 starter and a candidate for Freshman of the Year. The Tigers were running low on pitching and called on senior righthander Clay Moffitt, who had only thrown 17 innings this spring.
For the first two innings, the matchup played out about as expected. Moffitt kept Mississippi State off the board, yes, but Ginn was dominant, retiring the first six batters he faced, four on strikeouts.
But something changed in the third inning. Senior Chris Reid led off the inning with a single and after another Ginn strikeout, senior Brandt Broussard ripped a double down the left field line to score Reid.
LSU never looked back. The Tigers scored five runs in the inning to knock out Ginn and piled on seven more in the fourth against four of Mississippi State relievers. The rout was on and LSU went on to a 12-2 victory in seven innings to advance to Saturday’s semifinals against top-seed Vanderbilt. The victory also boosted the Tigers’ RPI to No. 16 and, in the process, should have secured it a home regional in the NCAA Tournament.
“This is exactly the way we drew it up and expected it to happen,” coach Paul Mainieri joked. “We’re going up against a first-round pick that turned down, what, $3 million to come to school. Frankly we’re pitching guys that didn’t pitch a lot for us during the course of the year, so you had to love our matchup there, right?
“The first six at bats that we had tonight were about as noncompetitive at bats that you can have. Ginn just went right through us the first two innings. We couldn’t even get a sniff. He looked like he was going to dominate the game. All of a sudden in the third inning we got a couple of big hits. I thought Broussard’s double loosened everybody up.”
The Tigers knocked Ginn around a bit when he faced them in Starkville at the end of March. That night, they scored six runs (five earned) on nine hits in five innings against the freshman, though they also struck out nine times. But Ginn, who last year was drafted by the Dodgers with the 26th overall pick, has been outstanding this season and is 8-4, 3.49 with 100 strikeouts and 18 walks in 77.1 innings.
Reid said the Tigers were just able to make the in-game adjustment to Ginn they needed to make, leading to their offensive breakout.
“We made the adjustment we needed to make in the game to be able to go out there and have productive and quality at bats in the game consistently,” he said.
Friday’s win wasn’t conventional, but it was just what LSU needed. It will allow the Tigers to play regionals in Alex Box Stadium, where they are 27-8 this season. And it saw them advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the seventh year in a row. Under Mainieri, LSU is 38-9 in the SEC Tournament and has won six titles.
Reid said that record in Hoover isn’t by accident.
“I think (our fans) travel really well,” Reid said. “We have a lot of support, that’s something that other teams don’t have. We feel really at home. Coach likes the tournament a lot. He’s always telling us we’re going to be there, might as well win it, we have nothing to lose. We just come here with that mindset that this is our place, we’re comfortable playing here, we’ve got a good following, I think it all clicks when we get here.”
Maybe it was the crowd – which at 14,294 fans was the fourth largest in SEC Tournament history. Maybe it was LSU’s “Championship Gold” uniforms. Maybe LSU was extra-motivated to lock up a home regional next week. Whatever the case, Friday night certainly didn’t unfold the way it was expected to.
But Mainieri, who has been around baseball his whole life and is in his 37th season as a head coach, said nothing in baseball can surprise him anymore.
“I know it shocked everybody, but we’ve done things like this before,” Mainieri said. “Anything’s possible. If you’re around baseball long enough, anything’s possible. Unfortunately, that works against you sometimes too, so you’ve got to enjoy the ones you get. We’re going to enjoy this one until (Saturday).”