OXFORD, Miss. — LSU began its weekend series against Ole Miss in a three-way tie for the Southeastern Conference overall lead and with a three-game lead in the Western Division.
After winning two out of three against the Rebels, including a 12-3 rout Sunday afternoon at Swayze Field, the Tigers headed home in a two-way tie for first and with a four-game lead in the West.
That made it a successful first weekend in May any way you look at it. But first and foremost, the Tigers’ victory and Vanderbilt’s victory against Tennessee guaranteed LSU a spot in the SEC tournament at the end of the month in Hoover, Ala., after the Tigers failed to qualify for it last season.
“It was just huge for us,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “A four-game lead in the West gives us a chance, if we do well next weekend (against Vanderbilt), to win a (division) championship. From this point forward, hopefully, we’ll have a chance to win a championship every weekend. That’s what you come to LSU for.”
Freshman right-hander Aaron Nola pitched seven strong innings Sunday to improve to 6-2 in his longest outing since being forced from a game against Arkansas on April 1 because of shoulder soreness.
He had not pitched more than five innings in any start since leaving the start against Arkansas in the eighth inning. Nola was held out of the next series against Florida to rest the shoulder, then returned with a predetermined one-inning stint against Southern Miss on April 11.
Since returning to his Sunday spot in the rotation, Nola pitched five innings against Alabama, five innings against Kentucky and 4.2 innings against Georgia.
“I get picked on a lot from Austin for not going past the five-inning mark,” Nola said of his brother, the LSU shortstop. “But they congratulated me for getting past it. I hadn’t gone seven in a while.”
Outfielder Raph Rhymes has a hit in every game since returning from a slight concussion he sustained when he was hit by a pitch at Florida on April 6. Rhymes, who was 0-for-4 the night before, was 0-for-2 before being hit by the pitch and leaving the game in the next inning.
He sat out three games before returning against Alabama on April 13 and going 1-for-2. That started a 15-game hitting streak, during which Rhymes has hit .571 (32-for-56). During the streak, he has had one four-hit game, three three-hit games, eight two-hit games and three one-hit games. Rhymes, who was 2-for-3 Sunday, has reached safely in 29 consecutive games.
Alex Edward made his first start in eight games, playing right field. Edward, who has been slowed by a hamstring injury, was making just his 10th start of the season.
He replaced left-handed Tyler Moore to face Ole Miss’ left-handed starter, Dylan Chavez. Jordy Snikeris returned to the designated hitter spot after left-handed Grant Dozar had been the DH against right-handers in the first two games of the series.
Edward wasn’t in the game long, but he did contribute while in there.
In the second inning Edward sacrificed Rhymes to second, and Rhymes later scored on JaCoby Jones’ two-run double. Edward reached base when he was hit by a pitch in the third. He finished without an official at-bat as Moore pinch hit for him after right-hander Josh Laxer entered the game in the fourth.
Snikeris went 1-for-3 with two runs and reached base two other times after being hit by a pitch and drawing a walk.
LSU improved to 11-9 in day games after snapping a four-game losing streak during the daytime. … The Tigers, who had hit into 51 double plays and turned just 25 before Sunday, reversed that trend. They hit into just one and turned three.
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