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Tigers Ride First Sweep In Starkville In 42 Years To SEC Co-Championship

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via LSUSports.net

It’s amazing to think where LSU baseball was just a few weeks ago. Question marks in the bullpen. Worries about slumping starters. Mid-week disasters. Struggles at the plate. SWEPT BY TULANE. And yet through it all, LSU never quite totally fell apart. The defensive excellence never went away. The Tigers never got swept, even in tough road trips. And slowly, piece-by-piece, LSU put it together. After the sweep at Bama, I said that LSU would spend the rest of the year in a tough fight, and the Tigers have come through in flying colors, winning 11 of it’s last 12 SEC games. LSU Baseball continues to evolve into a more powerful form, just in time for the postseason to begin.

Friday saw another steady, though short, outing from Jared Poché. Luckily, the Tigers pounced on State pitching early, notching 3 runs on 1 hit 2 walks and a HBP in the 1st. MSU would get on back immediately on a double by Rooker that would eventually score, but then Poché settled in for 2 cycles through the MSU lineup until the 5th inning. Poché started to lose his command a bit and gave up 3 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks. He was able to get out of the frame on his own, but the damage had already been done and the game was tied.

Luckily for LSU, that was the exact moment State’s skeleton crew pitching staff began to unravel. 4 runs on 3 hits and 4 walks, including an astonishing back-to-back-to-back bases loaded walks, as the bulldogs went through 4 pitchers in the 6th inning and could find nothing that worked. Duplantis, Deichmann, and Coomes showed tremendous patience at the plate to make that sequence pay off. The scoring continued in the 7th with a Deichmann home run, a Duplantis sac fly, and Robertson scoring from 3rd on a wild pitch, to make the score 11-5.

State tried to come back, putting 2 on with 1 out on Caleb Gilbert in the bottom of the 6th, but then Zach Hess came in and had himself a night. State would score 1 run from 3rd on a wild pitch, but Hess would otherwise shut the door on State, recording 6Ks over his 3.2 innings in relief an earning the save in the 11-5 final. Hess showed some great stuff in his outing and really has the making of someone who will contribute in a big spot this summer and will probably earn himself a much bigger role in next year’s pitching staff.

Thanks to other results around the league, LSU secured the SEC West Championship with Friday’s win, guaranteeing them at least a top 2 seed in Hoover and an outside shot for the league crown. Rain on Saturday pushed back the game into a night cap for the final day in league play and in the meantime, Florida would secure a portion of the SEC Championship. The weather ruined many festivities State had planned for the weekend, as Dudy Nobel Field will undergo a major two-year+ rebuild into almost an entirely new configuration, taking with it the old tradition of the Left Field Lounge. Starkville is, in my mind, the toughest place for a visiting team in college baseball, even a bit over Alex Box, and the history book shows it. Coming into the weekend, LSU had only ever once swept a weekend against State in Dudy Nobel field’s 50 year history, way back in 1975. And as much genuine admiration as I have for the place, there could be no more fitting end for the Starkvegas mythos than at the hands of LSU.

The Tiger would strike 1st in the 2nd, batting around on some unexpected production. Beau Jordan notched a sailing 2 run homer. Robertson brought 1 home on an RBI single into left, and Duplantis hit a slow roller that got the 1st baseman tied up enough for it to count as a single and score Watson from 3rd. State would come right back in the bottom of the inning to get 2 of their own on 2 hard hit doubles, then tie it up on their own 2 run homer by Hunter Stovall in the 3rd. LSU would start to churn through the remaining bulldog arms with RBI singles by Deichmann and Papierski in the 4th and 5th innings. LSU started to build separation in the 6th with back-to-back RBI singles from Coomes and Smith and yet another bases loaded walk for Watson, bringing the score to 9-4 LSU.

But State would not go quietly. Nick Bush, who came in for Walker in the 5th, started having command issues and SEC Triple Crown winner Brent Rooker struck for an RBI double and came home on a 2RBI single, making the score a tight 9-7 after 6. The miracle comeback was not to be, however, as Coomes induced a score on a throwing error by SS Ryan Gridley in the 7th and Freeman marked another RBI double. Hunter Newman came on in the 8th for his 2nd outing of the weekend and turned out the lights on Dudy Nobel field for the last time.

If there’s a major takeaway from the weekend, I’d say it’s that LSU’s pitching staff has truly solidified into what we thought they were capable of in the preseason, and at just the right time. Even without the other-worldy Brent Rooker, State’s lineup is still one of the best in the conference, and it’s kept them on the winning side in plenty of games long after their injury ridden pitching staff ran out of gas. Even Rooker, who went 7-13 on the weekend, only had 2 RBIs on the weekend and LSU never showed that they were afraid of him. Contrast that with the weekend of Greg Deichmann, who was walked an amazing 10 times, including multiple intentional walks.

The woes of State’s pitching staff were known going in, so I think that should temper what we think of LSU’s offensive output on the weekend. Yes, back-to-back double digit scoring for the first time on conference play all year is nice, as were the 40 hits. But there’s also 27 walks in that output. The quality of pitching LSU will face for the remainder of the year will be quite a bit better than what was seen in Starkville.

So here we are. After a long season of tweaking and poking and prodding, LSU splits the SEC Title with Florida and is on track for it’s unprecedented 6th National Seed in a row. Coach Paul Mainieri has now won his 9th regular season or tournament SEC Championship in 9 seasons at LSU. He’s also accomplished what was considered impossible, a sweep of Mississippi State in Starkville.