LSU baseball heads into SEC Tournament matchup with Georgia still on the postseason bubble

LSU baseball's 1997 home run record could be in danger of being broken. PHOTO BY: Jonathan Mailhes

LSU baseball’s postseason push isn’t over yet.

The Tigers have at least one more game to try to impress the selection committee and claim themselves a spot in the NCAA Tournament. They’ll meet Georgia on Tuesday in the first round of the SEC Tournament to make their case for a spot in a regional.

Georgia is coming off a series loss to Florida that saw the Bulldogs drop the final two games after claiming game one. The first round of the SEC Tournament is single elimination, and the winner will move on to play No. 3 seed Kentucky.

LSU has a strong history of making SEC Tournament runs. The Tigers have the best all-time record at 90-49 and own the most titles with 12. The next closes schools have just seven. LSU last won the Tournament in 2017.

The Bulldogs are led by one of the most dangerous players in the country, Charlie Condon. Condon leads the country in batting average (.451), home runs (35) and OPS (1.630). Georgia is second in the country in home runs per game (2.64) and are seventh in the country in total runs (499).

LSU will need its star slugger Tommy White to stay hot if it wants to keep pace with Georgia’s offense. White showed this weekend against Ole Miss that when he’s on his game, he can help pull the Tigers to a win.

White went 8-for-13 with three homers, two doubles and a triple against Ole Miss. He had seven RBI on the series with five coming in game three when he had two homers, one of which was a grand slam.

Starting pitchers haven’t been announced, but LSU could potentially turn to Gage Jump on the mound. Jump threw 83 pitches on Thursday and would be throwing on short rest. He has a 3.65 ERA on the season but has been playing some of his best baseball down the stretch.

The Tigers have won four of the last five games he started. In his last outing, he went six innings and allowed five hits, two walks and one run. He likely could’ve pitched longer if not for a rain delay that forced him into the dugout.

Georgia sits at No. 9 in the SEC with a 5.58 ERA and allowed 19 runs to Florida on Saturday to drop the series. Kolten Smith started Thursday for the Bulldogs and went eight innings allowing four hits, two runs and one walk while striking out 12. He threw 110 pitches and would be on short rest if he started on Tuesday.

LSU will be looking for a win to solidify its postseason chances, but if you ask LSU head coach Jay Johnson, there’s no question that the team belongs in the NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt. There’s no doubt we’re one of the top 10-15 teams in college baseball, so that’s not even debatable,” Johnson said after LSU swept Ole Miss on Saturday. “If we lost today, you could start peeling it back and finding a reason and give the committee an excuse to not put us in. There’s no excuse now. This is one of the best teams in the country.”

Historical precedent says that Johnson might be right. Since the SEC expanded to 14 teams, every SEC team that’s won at least 13 conference games and been ranked inside the top 30 in RPI has made the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky missed the NCAA Tournament with 13 conference wins in 2018 and ranked No. 30 in RPI. The Wildcats would’ve been the 11th SEC team to make the NCAA Tournament that season. Any team at No. 29 or higher has made it to a regional.  

The Tigers sit right at 13 wins and are No. 30 in RPI. They also sit at No. 21 in KPI, a new resource the selection committee will use to determine this year’s tournament field. A win over Georgia, a team that sits No. 6 in RPI and No. 7 in KPI, would likely help LSU rise even further in the rankings.

The problem for LSU is the logjam of other SEC schools that also fit those criteria at the moment. No conference has ever sent more than 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament, but there are 11 SEC schools with 13 or more wins and an RPI in the top 30. There are five teams with exactly 13 conference wins, and LSU has series losses to three of them: Alabama, Florida and Vanderbilt.

LSU will likely need to win at least one game in the SEC Tournament to set itself apart from the rest of the 13-win SEC schools. The good news for the Tigers is that the other four 13-win teams are all playing each other in round one. Alabama will take on South Carolina and Vanderbilt will take on Florida.

Beating Georgia could then secure the Tigers a spot in the NCAA Tournament. A loss though might make their late-season surge fall just short.  

LSU’s game with Georgia will start at 9:30 a.m. and will be televised on SEC Network.

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Will Nickel

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