By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Having just been pounded 10-2 in a cold, rain-soaked rubber match at the hands of Kentucky, LSU sat on the tarmac in Lexington and waited for its chartered jet to arrive three hours late.
The clock would strike nearly 10:30 p.m. CT Sunday by the time the team got back to Alex Box Stadium from a rough weekend.
Forced to wait on the bus in the rain, Paul Mainieri took the opportunity to preach a message of persistence to his team. Though LSU suffered a pair of lopsided losses to the SEC East leaders, the team stood at 10-8 in the league, the exact same record it had last year before finishing with a flurry to nab a national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
LSU presently finds itself tied for fourth place in the SEC West, and the Tigers will close out the regular season with series against Auburn and division-leader Mississippi State, two of the three teams it trails in the standings.
“I know it ways sounds like the half-cup-full kind of guy,” Mainieri said Monday, “but what we went through today and where we are in the season, it doesn’t make us unique among traditional powers in the country.
“The only thing you have to guard against is everybody thinks the sky is falling. We have a tendency in Baton Rouge to think that way … We’ve got 15 games left, and I still think the story hasn’t been written on the 2017 season yet.”
There’s no time for the Tigers to sit around and lick their wounds. Following an off day Monday, LSU (27-14) continues its seven-game road swing with a trip to Tulane (20-21) Tuesday night before leaving for Alabama Wednesday to begin a Thursday-Saturday series.
Tulane defeated LSU 7-6 at the Box on March 28 and has won three in a row against the Tigers overall. Avoiding another home-and-home sweep to a New Orleans school represents a tough task as LSU sets out to play four more road games in a span five days.
“It’s challenging, especially with final exams looming next week,” the coach said. “That’s kind of daunting when you think about it, but you just try to take it one day at a time and no worry too much about it. Appeal to the kids’ toughness that they’ll find a way to get the job done.”
Mainieri announced that LSU will start Matt Beck (1-0, 2.16 ERA) against the Green Wave and “play it by ear” after that. The coach hinted LSU wouldn’t use a different variation of the Johnny Wholestaff approach it’s taken to recent midweek games.
Instead of the focus being on getting several relievers work, Mainieri and Alan Dunn will make a point not to overwork key relievers with another SEC series beginning Thursday.
Tulane will counter with left-hander Sam Bjorngjeld. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. at Turchin Stadium.
LSU dropped in all four of the major polls following a 2-2 week with a pair of lopsided losses to Kentucky. However, the Tigers remain inside the Top 15 in all four polls. Here’s where things stand. (Note: Previous week’s rankings in parenthesis)
D1Baseball.com 13 (9)
Baseball America 15 (6)
Perfect Game 15 (10)
College Baseball Newspaper 14 (12)