With LSU preparing to embark on the final three weekends of the regular season, Tigers’ baseball coach Paul Mainieri found the timing pertinent to address his team before the start of Monday’s 10-2 home victory over Southern.
While he didn’t ask his team to stray away from its one-game-at-a-time approach, Mainieri felt compelled to give them a roadmap of what the next three weekends entail and hope a successful showing can have a positive impact on the team’s postseason fortunes.
“We’re at the point in the season where we have to win series,” Mainieri said going into this weekend’s three-game series at Auburn. “If we want to get in the NCAA tournament, that’s the reality. We’re at three weekends to go and if we want to get into the NCAA tournament, we have to win series.”
LSU (27-17, 7-14 in SEC) travels to Auburn (19-21, 5-16) where it will open a make-a-break series at Plainsman Park at 6:30 Thursday on ESPNU.
The series continues at 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday.
“If you look at the big picture and what we have ahead of us we know we can play with anybody in the country,” LSU pitcher Devin Fontenot said. “These next three weekends are obviously going to be huge for us. We know that we can beat these three teams and we’re not looking ahead of the midweek teams either. We’ve got to take care of business there, too, and we plan on doing that. If you look at the big picture and we end the regular season with all of these wins, then we could put ourselves in a very good situation when it comes to the postseason.”
The latest projection by D1Baseball.com this week doesn’t paint a very pretty picture for LSU, which wasn’t listed in its NCAA’s 64-team field. The Tigers, who have a No. 2 strength of schedule and an RPI of 24, also failed to show up in the next five teams out.
“We’ve won two series, now we need to win some series,” Mainieri said. “We have three series remaining. If you dream and we’re successful in these last three weekends, and you’ve won half your 10 series and end up with 13-14 wins in the league and end up a good RPI around 20 or better and a SOS, that can get you into the NCAA tournament. You say things to motivate your team, to make them understand the goals are still attainable.”
LSU follows the Auburn series with four straight home games against 14th ranked Louisiana Tech (May 11), a three-gane SEC series vs. Alabama (May 14-16) and against Northwestern State (May 18). The Tigers close the regular season with a three-game league series at Texas A&M (May 20-22).
The SEC’s postseason tournament, featuring the top 12 of 14 league teams, is May 25-30 in Hoover, Ala.
“We have a lot at stake here,” LSU third baseman Cade Doughty said. “Coach has instilled that mindset of one game at a time and I think we’re all on the same page in the locker room. We don’t want to look too far down the road.”
Although LSU isn’t facing a ranked conference foe for the first time in four weeks, Mainieri was quick to credit Auburn, which won last weekend’s series at Georgia despite getting shutout in game one.
Shortstop Ryan Bliss leads Auburn with .352 average, 10 homers and 32 RBIs followed by first baseman Tyler Miller (.340, 12 HRs, 51 RBIs) and third baseman Rankin Woley (.313, 6 HRs, 19) RBIs) – an LSU transfer.
“You can’t look too far ahead, we have a very tough opponent this week,” Mainieri said. “Their record is not indicative at all of the talent level of this team. This team was in the College World Series two years ago, they have several players still on this team. This team can hit. We’ve got our hands full with this team.”
Mainieri said Landon Marceaux (4-4, 2.15 ERA, 80 Ks, 67 IP) and AJ Labas (3-1, 4.22, 59 KS, 64 IP) will get the starts Thursday and Friday, respectively, but won’t announce Saturday’s starter until later.
Senior Ma’Khail Hilliard (4-0, 5.04 ERA) made a strong case for that role, picking up a pair of wins last week over Grambling State and more impressively against No. 1 Arkansas. He allowed a run on two hits in five innings of work with three walks and three strikeouts.
Mainieri said he would not hesitate to bring in Hilliard in relief in either of the first two games if he could help the Tigers win.
“If we need Ma’Khail Hilliard to win game one or two, we’re going to use him,” he said. “It’s not a fact whether he’s good enough to start game three. He’s obviously good enough to start game three and we would use him if he hasn’t been used in game one or game two. We’re not going to save somebody for game three if we have a chance to win game one or two.”
Freshmen Dylan Crews (.361, 11 HRs, 26 RBIs) and Tre’ Morgan (.349, 4 HRs, 30 RBIs) continue to serve as catalysts in LSU’s offense along with Doughty (.311, 10 HRs, 42 RBIs) and Gavin Dugas (.288, 12 HRs, 46 RBIs).
Mainieri said his team’s depth at catcher took a hit with the loss of sophomore Hayden Travinski (.271, 4 HRs, 13 RBIs) to Tommy John surgery this week after suffering a torn UCL in his right elbow.
“We are still playing for a lot,” Mainieri said. “There’s a lot to be gained if we can get the job done this weekend.”
Game 1 Thursday, 6:30 p.m. ESPNU
LSU – Jr. RH Landon Marceaux (4-4, 2.15 ERA, 67.0 IP, 13 BB, 80 SO)
AU – Sr. LH Jack Owen (1-3, 5.64 ERA, 30.1 IP, 7 BB, 28 SO)
Game 2 Friday, 7 p.m. SEC Network
LSU – Jr. RH AJ Labas (3-1, 4.22 ERA, 64.0 IP, 11 BB, 59 SO)
AU – So. RH Trace Bright (4-4, 7.71 ERA, 39.2 IP, 17 BB, 37 SO)
Game 3 Saturday, 2 p.m., SEC Network+
LSU – TBA
AU – TBA