Since LSU isn’t a lock to play in the SEC baseball tournament and on the outside looking in for a NCAA tourney berth, there’s only one way the Tigers can approach their final three-game SEC home series of the season starting Friday night vs. Alabama.
“This is postseason baseball as far as I’m concerned,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We’ve got to do whatever it takes each and every game.”
LSU is 30-18 overall and 9-15 in the SEC (11th place). Alabama is 19-10 and 11-12 in the SEC (8th place). The league’s top 12 teams advance to the league tournament in Hoover, Ala. starting May 25.
The Tigers have won two of their last three series at Ole Miss and Auburn. They had a chance to sweep both the Rebels and AU but suffered a pair of game three one-run walk-off losses (10-9 at Ole Miss, 2-1 at Auburn).
Yet the mere fact that LSU is 8-7 since starting SEC 1-8 keeps a glimmer of hope alive that the Tigers’ youthful position starters finally have enough experience to rally the team down the stretch.
They’ve certainly played like it as of late, as well as some veterans like multi-position junior Drew Bianco and senior pitcher Ma’Khail Hilliard.
“We’ve got some young guys really stepping up and we’ve some veterans that have been struggling stepping up,” said LSU junior pitcher Landon Marceaux, who’ll start in Friday’s 7 p.m. opener. “Right now, we’re seeing the entire team coming together playing well for the first time this year.”
Marceaux, for the most part, has done his job well this season despite a deceiving 5-4 record in 12 starts. He’s fifth in the SEC in ERA (2.33), fifth in strikeouts (91) and second innings.
Marceaux’s teammates have provided him with anemic run support. In six of his eight SEC starts, LSU has scored two runs or fewer when he’s on the mound including no runs three times and one run once.
The Tigers’ bats did give him a three-run cushion in last weekend’s series opening win at Auburn, so Marceaux is hoping such offense will return against the Crimson Tide.
While LSU’s offensive constants all season have been Tre’ Morgan and Dylan Crews, it’s been first baseman Morgan who has exploded of late.
Morgan, a masterful fielder, now ranks third in the SEC in batting average (.375), first in hits (69) and first in runs (52). In his last five games, he’s batting .538 (14 of 26) with 5 RBIs, 10 runs, 3 stolen bases and a double, a triple and a home run.
“He’s been rock solid all year long,” Marceaux said. “I’ve played on a lot of high-level teams and he is the one of the best defensive first basemen I’ve played against or with.”
The bottom half of LSU’s batting order has gotten a boost from Bianco, who’s hitting .280 in his last nine SEC games with 7 RBIs. Six of his eight SEC starts have been at second base and two in centerfield.
“I switch just flipped, I just feel really confident up there (at the plate),” Bianco said. “At the beginning of the year, I was stressing. I just wanted a (starting) job somewhere on the field. I was putting extra pressure on me that I didn’t need to do. Hitting is hard-enough.”
Hilliard, a freshman All-American in 2018 who struggled through two years of arm problems, has emerged the last two weekends as a third game series starter. In a combined 12.1 innings against No. 1 Arkansas and Auburn, he had an ERA of 1.46 and gave up 6 hits with 9 strikeouts and 3 walks.
On other hand, LSU game two starter AJ Labas was torched by the Razorbacks and AU. In a combined 9.2 innings, he had an ERA of 13.50 allowing 19 hits with 8 strikeouts and 3 walks.
Alabama rolls into Baton Rouge 11th in the SEC in team batting average (.273) and ninth in team ERA (4.45).
Sophomore infielder Zane Denton leads Alabama in hitting with a .331 average, and he has nine doubles, eight homers, 34 RBIs and 34 runs. Junior right-hander Chase Lee, the Crimson Tide’s closer, is 6-0 with a 1.33 ERA and six saves in 16 appearances.
Game 1 Friday, 7 p.m. SEC Network+
LSU – Jr. RH Landon Marceaux (5-4, 2.33 ERA, 73.1 IP, 15 BB, 91 SO)
UA – Jr. RH Tyler Ras (6-2, 5.68 ERA, 63.1 IP, 16 BB, 42 SO)
Game 2 Saturday, 2 p.m. SEC Network
LSU – Jr. RH AJ Labas (3-1, 4.52 ERA, 69.2 IP, 13 BB, 64 SO)
UA – Jr. RH Dylan Smith (1-6, 3.57 ERA, 70.2 IP, 17 BB, 93 SO)
Game 3 Sunday, 2 p.m. SEC Network+
LSU – TBA
UA – TBA