LSU riding power surge for weekend series

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU's JaCoby Jones, right, congratulates Mason Katz on his three-run homer during Sunday's 13-1 win over Southeastern Louisiana. The Tigers have hit seven home runs in eight games this season.
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU's JaCoby Jones, right, congratulates Mason Katz on his three-run homer during Sunday's 13-1 win over Southeastern Louisiana. The Tigers have hit seven home runs in eight games this season.

Power surge has LSU looking stronger as Brown, Nicholls come to town

The LSU baseball team enters this weekend having scored 24 runs and gotten 33 hits in its past two games.

Additionally, the Tigers (7-1) have hit seven home runs through eight games, after having hit just two at this point last season.

It’s not exactly the return of Gorilla Ball, but it is an indication of why coach Paul Mainieri thinks LSU has one of its most potent lineups in recent years.

“I feel like we have as good a lineup as we’ve had in the last few years,” Mainieri said as the Tigers prepared to play Brown at 7 p.m. Friday in Alex Box Stadium. “You can’t expect the heart of your order to get three or four hits and four or five runs batted in every game.

“But when the middle of the order doesn’t hit, the rest of the lineup is good enough to score four or five runs. When everybody is clicking and the pitching is good, the result is how the last two games have gone.”

The Tigers beat Louisiana-Lafayette 11-2 on Tuesday as Alex Bregman had a home run, a triple and four RBIs, Tyler Moore had three hits and three RBIs, and Cody Glenn threw a three-hit shutout over seven innings.

That came just two days after LSU had a season-high 19 hits in a 13-1 victory against Southeastern Louisiana. Cleanup hitter Raph Rhymes and No. 5 hitter Mason Katz combined for seven hits and 11 RBIs to support Ryan Eades and four relievers.

The emergence of Rhymes and Katz, who reached base six times and scored five runs Tuesday, elevated the offense to a higher level. Though the two seniors are the most proven hitters on the team, they had not been among the most productive during the first six games.

But in the last two games they are a combined 10-for-14.

“Those guys are great baseball players, and they’re great hitters,” Bregman said. “Them hitting like that allows everybody to see pitches, and they make the whole team better.”

Bregman, who’s batting .344, hit his first homer to increase LSU’s lead to 5-0 in the third inning Tuesday.

“He has a lot of power,” Katz said of Bregman. “He consistently hits the ball to all fields. He has a great swing and hits the ball hard almost every time he makes contact. To be honest, we thought two weeks into the season was a little late for his first home run. That was just the first of many.”

Mainieri’s high expectations for Bregman were demonstrated by him putting the freshman third in the batting order and expressing confidence in him publicly during the preseason.

“You can see now why I wasn’t shying away from talking in glowing terms about him,” Mainieri said.

The heart of the order has benefited from leadoff hitter Chris Sciambra having a .545 on-base percentage and Mark Laird batting .333 behind him.

After Bregman, Rhymes and Katz, the bottom four have been less consistent, but have had their moments. JaCoby Jones is batting .292 and is tied with Katz for the team lead with seven home runs, and Moore provided a boost from the designated hitter spot Tuesday. Catcher Ty Ross is hitting just .217, though he does have a homer, and No. 9 hitter Christian Ibarra is hitting. 296. He hit a leadoff homer to tie the score in the ninth as LSU rallied for two runs to beat BYU eight days ago.

“We love our lineup, (Nos.) 1 through 9,” Katz said. “At any point in a game, we have a chance. We’re not going to get 14, 16, 19 hits every night, but the whole lineup is capable.”

Brown is beginning its season now because the Ivy League doesn’t allow its members to play before the first weekend in March. The Bears were 9-35 overall and 6-14 in the Ivy League last season.

Brown will play the Tigers again Saturday night, in addition to Nicholls State on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.

LSU and Nicholls State will play at 3 p.m. Sunday.

The Tigers will start Aaron Nola on Friday, Ryan Eades on Saturday and Glenn again on Sunday. Mainieri wants to see Glenn on Sunday as he and Brent Bonvillain compete for the No. 3 starting role when Southeastern Conference play starts in two weeks.

Notes

Rhymes is one of 30 candidates for the 2013 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence — community, classroom, character and competition. The winner will be announced during the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., June 15-26. … There is no extra admission charge for the Brown-Nicholls State games; however, fans must have an LSU game ticket Saturday and Sunday in order to be admitted to the Brown-Nicholls State games.