LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said his Tigers have the opportunity to join a small fraternity of teams in school history that have never lost a midweek game in a single season.
With the Tigers in a mad dash to compile as many wins as possible and further bolster their NCAA regional resume’ with four games remaining in the regular season, the Tigers could take a necessary step toward that goal Tuesday against visiting Northwestern State at 6:30 p.m.
LSU (32-19) needs a win over the Demons (26-24) of the Southland Conference to finish the season 12-0 in midweek games intact, enabling the Tigers to become the third team in school history to achieve the feat.
“I think the kids are taking a lot of pride in that,” Mainieri said. “I think we’ll be focused.”
LSU, which is 12-0 against in-state competition, captured its third Southeastern Conference series triumph in four weeks with a weekend series win over Alabama. The Tigers closed out the weekend with a convincing 13-5 victory in which the Tigers collected 16 hits, including four homers in support of winning pitcher Ma’khail Hilliard who improved to 4-0 on the season. He allowed three runs on four hits, walked one and struck out seven in five innings with Garrett Edwards and Ty Floyd equally dividing the remaining four innings.
Following the game with Northwestern State, weather permitting, LSU travels to Texas A&M to finish the regular season with a three-game SEC series that begins at 6 p.m. Thursday.
The Tigers look to polish up a resume that contains a No. 18 RPI and features 10 quad-1 wins and 9 quad-2 wins.
“They see the big picture but there’s motivation to do well tomorrow night,” Mainieri said. “We also want to keep our resume looking good for the NCAA. If we don’t go out and win the game against Northwestern State, our resume for the NCAA bid would take a big hit. You want to have your RPI as high it can be. You can’t stub your toe in a midweek game. We need to get the job done tomorrow night and I think our players understand that.”
With LSU having won seven of its last 10 games, Mainieri believes his team is playing its best baseball of the season.
The Tigers have crawled out of a 1-8 hole to start SEC play and following the series win over Alabama are now 11-16 and considered to be on the cusp of earning an NCAA bid where 13 or 14 wins in league play is considered a prerequisite.
They’ve done so with a sense of perseverance in bouncing back from potentially devastating losses along the way to Ole Miss (10-9 in third game) and South Carolina (4-2 in game two) during respective SEC series.
“We dug ourselves a hole and the hole was dug because some of the games we lost were heartbreaking,” Mainieri said. “We got walked off four times on the road in the SEC. Those games could have been won.
“We lost some heartbreaking games at home as well. That doesn’t mean we weren’t competitive. We were right there. It was a play here, a pitch here, an at-bat here. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen. To be a championship team, you have to do it. We didn’t do it. I kept saying the season’s not over. Our kids have not quit.”
Mainieri praised his team’s improved defense, pointing toward last weekend’s efforts from second baseman Drew Bianco and center fielder Giovanni DiGiacomo, as prime examples that LSU is headed in the right direction in that facet of the game.
Defensive superlatives from Mainieri also went to catcher Alex Milazzo, first baseman Tre’ Morgan, left fielder Gavin Dugas and third baseman Cade Doughty.
He was also quick to credit the efforts of DiGiacomo at the plate who came into the weekend without a home run and finished Sunday’s game with a pair of homers – one to left and right field. Right fielder Dylan Crews, Dugas and Doughty also garnered a share of the offensive spotlight from Mainieri.
Crews, like Morgan, had three hits and drove in two runs Sunday while Dugas, a day after homering twice in Saturday’s 6-5 loss, had a double and an RBI among his two hits. He was selected as the SEC’s Co-Player of the Week after batting .429 with an .526 on-base percentage to go along with eight RBIs.
“We need guys to do extraordinary things,” Mainieri said. “LSU’s not a place for ordinary people. LSU’s a place where you come to do extraordinary stuff. This is what’s expected out of you. If you want to be average, if you just want to be good, you should go elsewhere.
“LSU’s a place to come to be great and you have to know that when you come here. We can’t be tolerant with just being mediocre. I think Gio took his game to a whole different level the last couple of days. You need that out of your centerfielder, you need that out of everybody associated with the program from coaches to players at every position.”