LSU baseball aims for hitting and pitching balance

LSU's lineup is one of the most talented in the country. The Tigers have a team batting average of .308 and have plated 399 runs this season en route to a 52-9 record and the SEC West and Tournament titles. While the team is as confident as ever, recent run production has dropped. After averaging eight runs a game the week before the SEC tourney, the Tiger bats cooled off in Hoover.

"We ran into some good arms," freshman Alex Bregman said. "But we also hit some balls hard right at people. I mean, it's just baseball, sometimes you don't score a lot of runs, sometimes you do."

LSU's run production fell to just three per outing during its conference championship run, with the team relying more on its pitching and defense, but the Tigers are confident their bats will come back alive for regional play.

Senior Mason Katz leads the team with 14 home runs and 64 RBI. He figures the offense will get back on track soon. "We didn't put up too many runs this weekend, hopefully we're saving them for this weekend and after this weekend."

Bregman added, "We've been pretty consistent all year long. I think we've hit like .305 to .312 as team in that range, back and forth. I think our bats will be fine, and we'll be ready and confident and aggressive at the plate this week."

Senior Raph Rhymes agreed, "I think so, once we get into that Box with the crowd energy with us, I think they'll heat back up."

Speaking of that home field advantage, the passionate LSU crowds at Alex Box Stadium have been known to affect opposing pitchers, especially during the post-season.

"Some teams come in and get intimidated by it, and some teams don't," said Katz. "We don't expect teams to get intimidated by it, you can't think that way, but for us, it's nice to play in front of the home crowd."

As for LSU's pitching staff, the Tigers brought 12 pitchers to the SEC tournament last week. All 12 saw action, combining for a 1.91 ERA and 33 strikeouts. As LSU's offense struggled during stretches, the pitching was solid from start to finish.

"Everything's clicking for the staff," closer Chris Cotton said. "We have our guys that come out in certain situations and we see that. Anybody's that's called upon has done their job, and that's what we need."

Coach Paul Mainieri added, "Our pitching stepped up bigtime, but so did our defense. I was so happy with the outings of our main three starters.

Cody Glenn (7-2), ace Aaron Nola (10-0) and Ryan Eades (8-1) all went seven innings in Hoover, before an equally talented and deep bullpen closed out four wins, including Sunday's SEC championship game.

"I expect the same consistency for the rest of the year," said Bregman. "Chris Cotton (4-1, 15 Saves) at the back end of the bullpen shuts them down. We call him the Sheriff, he comes to town and shuts them down. And then Ryan Eades, Aaron Nola and Cody Glenn are incredible, our entire bullpen, our entire pitching staff is doing a great job."

Mason Katz agreed, "You know they've been huge. Cody stepped up bigtime, his last five or so starts have just been phenomenal. When our pitching staff goes out there we expect them to do that and they expect themselves to do that."

LSU's team ERA of 2.48 is third nationally, behind only Arkansas (1.87) and Oregon State (2.21). When the Tigers take the mound for regional play this weekend, all hands, make that all arms will be on deck once again.

This weekend LSU aims for both its pitching and hitting to carry the load. The Tigers first play Friday at 2:00 against Jackson State.