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Tigers Battle Rain and Aggies to Secure Division Crown

Ryan Eades
Ryan Eades
ATVS FIle Photo

Rain is the enemy of a good weekend. It can take your best laid plans and throw them into complete chaos. In SEC Baseball, rain leads to a rule book filled with contingency plans, curfews, and inning limits. Being able to deal with these issues is crucial to have success in a league where the most important games happen in the South between March and May. LSU was able to deal with this and more to hold on for a series win in Aggieland that secured it's 17th SEC Western Division Championship, the 4th (and 2nd straight) under Coach Paul Mainieri.

Thursday started off with a nearly 2 hour rain delay and would be stopped off and on until the game's finish well after midnight. It was another situation where, to avoid risking wasting a rain shortened start, Mainieri tossed Cody Glenn against one of A&M's better starters to save Aaron Nola and Ryan Eades for sunnier days. Glenn yet again more than held his own in a tough situation and scattered 3 hits over 6 complete before hitting a wall in the A&M 7th. Even then, a lot of blame for the disastrous 7th inning is shared with the usually stellar LSU Defense. 2 errors on the left side of the defense doomed the inning before Nick Rumbelow could come in for hit-less mop up duty. The mistakes only scored 2 A&M runs, but that was enough on a night where most of the lineup appeared to leave their bats on the bus. Raph Rhymes and Christian Ibarra paired back to back hits for LSU's only run on the night and JaCoby Jones had the only other hit. A&M's Daniel Mengden had 5Ks on the night, but mostly LSU just hit easy balls in play or weak pop outs and watched the innings pass by. Mainieri's experiment of batting Mark Laird 9th and shifting everyone up d id little but bring the Rhymes-Bregman-Katz combo to the plate faster.

Friday was going to be the premier pitching matchup of the weekend with Nola going against A&M's Parker Ray. However, when A&M's Saturday starter Rafael Pineda came up with a sore shoulder, and with 1 game already in the bag, the Aggies tossed Matt Kent, a freshman with a 4.05 ERA, to the wolves. The Tigers got 7 runs off of 12 runs through the first six innings while Nola scattered 2 hits with 4 Ks before the 6th inning. As the skies began to darken, LSU weakened a bit as Nola gave up 4 hits in the 6th, which combined with another error on the left side to chip the lead to 7-2. Then the strangeness of spring weather, SEC baseball, and TV considerations began to work. The tarp was pulled due to the "threat of rain" though reporters on site noted that nearly 45 minutes passed before any sort of precipitation or lightning occurred. The game would have to be finished in the morning, but due to SEC rules, when two games are played on the final day of a weekend, even if one is a continuation of a previous game, the subsequent game must only be 7 innings. The teams came back at 9:30am to play 3, hopefully finishing before a mandatory stop time for the TV broadcast of the 3rd game. A&M, feeling they had a shot with Nola no longer on the mound, tossed out their closer Corey Ray, while LSU went with reliever Joey Bourgeois, hoping to save the rest of the bullpen for the rubber match that afternoon. It did not go well for Bourgeois as he would give up 4 hits and 2 runs before being relieved by Rumbelow and then Chris Cotton in another dazzling 9th inning for his 11th save. The Tiger's offense had clearly gotten up at the right time, even though it didn't manage any runs off of their 5 hits in the continuation (including a great bunt by Mark Laird that he managed to outrun for a single)

The shortened Saturday finale started with a few worries. It was only 7 innings, but what if Eades got into trouble early? Cotton had a total of 7 pitches in his 1 inning of work that morning, but could we risk using him again with the series on the line? It would prove to be a tough one as A&M's Parker Ray (who was supposed to face Nola) was able to keep the stars of LSU's lineup in check. It took help from the low key guys on the lineup, particularly Sean McMullen, Andrew Stevenson, and Mark Laird. Laird in particular was a big help, going 3 for 4 with a RBI on his best day in what feels like quite some time. LSU would need an "extra" inning to put away the Aggies as Eades had what would normally be a great outing, giving up 8 hits but only 1 run through 6 and 1/3. Cotton was asked to win the game and he did, getting his 3rd victory of the year and not appearing to be phased at all by the extra work.

Thanks to an inexplicable loss by Arkansas at home against the lowly Vols, LSU was able to claim the SEC West title and it's accompanying #2 seed in the SEC Tournament a week ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, Vandy was also able to secure the outright SEC regular season championship, but there is still the pride of whupping Ole Miss into pieces to keep the Tigers motivated next week.

It's hard to say how much of an effect the adverse conditions and schedule had on LSU this weekend. On one hand, all three starting pitchers had great performances along with another great weekend for closer Cotton. On the other, LSU's offense continues to be schizophrenic. Either we're beating the snot out of somebody with 15+ hits and double digit runs, or we're barely getting on base and stranding those that do for nearly no production at all. I worry (because as a fan of a 45-7 team, one that may very well end with the greatest regular season record in LSU history, all I can do is worry) about LSU having an off day in the post season and running right into the jaws of someone's Ace. The defense had a bad weekend (for them, LSU is still one of the top 5 defenses IN THE NATION), but that'll happen when things get weird and the dirt gets wet. The pitching staff barely had a hiccup. It's the offense that worries me, because when the days are bad, they are REALLY bad.

SEC Standings

Team(SEC Seed)

SEC Pct. Overall Pct. Home Away Neutral Streak
Vanderbilt (1)
24 - 2 .923 45 - 6 .882 28-3 17-3 0-0 W12
South Carolina (4)
16 - 10 .615 37 - 14 .725 27-6 10-6 0-2 W4
Florida (8)
13 - 14 .481 28 - 25 .528 20-16 8-8 0-1 L1
Kentucky (11)
10 - 17 .370 28 - 22 .560 18-11 7-10 3-1 L3
Missouri (12)
8 - 19 .296 16 - 30 .348 11-12 5-17 0-1 L1
7 - 18 .280 20 - 28 .417 11-12 7-14 2-2 L2
5 - 19 .208 18 - 31 .367 10-18 7-13 1-0 L3
LSU (2)
21 - 6 .778 45 - 7 .875 31-3 13-4 1-0 W2
Arkansas (3)
17 - 9 .654 34 - 17 .667 24-9 9-4 0-4 W2
Ole Miss (5)
14 - 13 .519 35 - 17 .673 22-9 13-6 0-2 L1
Mississippi St. (6)
14 - 13 .519 37 - 15 .712 27-6 8-9 2-0 W1
Alabama (7)
13 - 13 .500 31 - 22 .585 22-9 9-11 0-2 W1
Texas A&M (9)
11 - 15 .423 27 - 24 .529 21-10 4-12 1-2 L2
Auburn (10)
11 - 16 .407 31 - 20 .608 20-10 9-10 2-0 W1