BASEBALL Preview But Not Really: LSU v. Georgia

 

It's hard to pinpoint the exact nadir of LSU baseball post-Skip.  While the program obviously declined under Smoke Laval, he did go to Omaha twice and win an SEC title.  As soon as LSU missed its first tournament in seemingly forever, Smoke was shown the door.   That could have been the low point.

But if we have to point to one game, one moment, I would like for all of us to step into the Wayback Machine to relive April 20, 2008.

It seems like almost a decade ago, or even like it didn't actually happen, but two years ago, Paul Mainieri was not the most popular guy on campus.  There was a large, and vocal, contingent in the LSU fanbase that thought Skip hired the wrong guy (many wanted Blanco) and that Tulane - TULANE! - had passed LSU by as the premier baseball program in the state.

Mainieri had brought in a highly regarded recruiting class, but he had also given a lot of players on the roster their walking papers.  LSU missed the tournament (again) in his first season, and midway through his second year, it looked like the naysayers might be right.  Maybe Mainieri was nothing more than some carpetbagger who couldn't win in the pressure cooker at LSU. 

His freshman-heavy lineup entered the Georgia game trying to stay out of the SEC cellar.  Georiga now looked like the new power in SEC baseball and sat on top of the division at 14-3.  LSU was 6-11, so there was time to get back in the SEC tourney (forget about the NCAA's), but time was running out.

LSU jumped out to a 5-0 lead, keyed by home runs by Hollander and Dean.  Georgia tried to climb back in the game, but LSU exploded for 3 more runs in the bottom of the sixth, and led 10-3 with just three innings to play.  LSU was going to avoid the sweep and get back on the right track.

Then it went horribly, horribly wrong.  Bradford ran out of gas in the 7th inning and Georgia started to rally.  Mainieri went to the pen and brought in Daniel Bradshaw, who proceeded to pour gasoline on the fire.  LSU blew a 7-run lead in three innings. 

The game would go 12 innings and end in a 10-10 tie.  In the final six innings, LSU would manage just four base runners.  The umpires called the game due to the travel rules, about the only thing that kept this game from being the most frustrating loss in LSU history, post-Skip.  LSU fell to 6-11-1 and dropped into last place after squandering a 7-run lead in a game they absolutely had to win.

And the fans went a little crazy.  This game proved the Mainieri didn't have "it".  Skip chose the wrong guy, and I'll tell you what, Skip's teams never blew a 7-run lead in must-win games.  At the time, it looked like LSU was going to miss the tournament again and that this program was still lost in the baseball wilderness.  It is the most frustrated I have ever been after an LSU baseball game.  I thought we were supposed to be getting better?  How did we lose this game?  There was a new balance of power in the SEC, one with Georgia on top and LSU on the bottom, clearly demonstrated not just by this game, but this series (in which Georgia won 2-0-1). 

Well, you know the rest.  LSU would win 23 consecutive games from that point on.  The game was not just frustrating to the fans, it was frustrating to the players.  This was the game in which the LSU program looked itself in the mirror and decided it wasn't going to be irrelevant anymore.  LSU stormed through the rest of the season, won the SEC tournament, advanced to Omaha, and even won its first game in Rosenblatt since the days of Skip.

And now Georgia returns to Baton Rouge for the first time since the worst day of the post-Skip era.  Things haven't just changed for LSU, but for Georgia as well.  The Bulldogs are now the team that sits on the bottom of the standings, staring up at league-leading LSU, wondering if this is the new order of things.

Georgia has scored just 152 runs this season, dead last in the conference.  Georgia has allowed 207 runs, which isn't just last in the conference, its last in the conference by over 50 runs.  The Dawgs have a team ERA of 8.11.  LSU only has one pitcher who has thrown five innings (Alsup) who has an ERA that high. 

It's no mirage.  Georgia only has one starter with an ERA below 5 (Grimm at 4.71).  Rounding out the rotation is Palazzone (7.48 ERA) and Walters (9.36! ERA).  The options don't get a whole lot better when you look at the bullpen. 

Actually, the offense shouldn't be nearly as bad as it has been for Georgia.  Cone (381/411/619), Glisson (339/455/435), and Verdin (316/364/582) form a core as good as anywhere else in the SEC.  Somehow, it just hasn't translated into runs.  The Dawgs just lack depth behind that core, which is killing rallies and thus the offense. 

LSU is the best team in the SEC.  Georgia is the worst.  All signs point to total domination, as these teams are on opposite ends of the spectrum right now.  But we know how quickly that can change.  Just look at the last time Georgia came to visit.     
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