East: An auspicious SEC start for LSU baseball

By Les East

Advocate sportswriter

STARKVILLE, Miss. — The LSU baseball team started Southeastern Conference play a lot like it did last season.

If that trend continues, it will be a memorable season for the Tigers.

Despite an ugly St. Patrick’s Day performance in a 10-2 loss, the second-ranked Tigers had a successful weekend by winning the series against No. 11 Mississippi State as they opened defense of their SEC title.

It was reminiscent of the start of SEC play last season, when State came to Alex Box Stadium and LSU had dramatic walk-off wins Friday and Saturday before losing rather ugly Sunday.

The similarity doesn’t end there.

Then-freshman Aaron Nola dug an early hole in a five-run first in his SEC debut, and the 7-1 game was never really competitive.

This Sunday, sophomore Cody Glenn made his first SEC start and dug an early hole for his team, which trailed 2-0 after one, 3-0 after two and 6-0 after four.

LSU’s hitting wasn’t any better than Glenn’s pitching, but the Sunday sloppiness couldn’t negate all the good the Tigers did in winning Friday and Saturday.

Any time you win a road series in the SEC, you get a leg up on the competition. LSU plays just one more road series against a perceived contender: It visits Arkansas next month. The Tigers’ other road series are against Missouri, Alabama and Texas A&M.

Nothing is guaranteed on the road — or even at home, where the Tigers have to play ranked teams Kentucky, Ole Miss and South Carolina as well as Auburn and Florida.

“You just can’t win them all in this league. It’s too tough a league,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “If you don’t play great on a given day, you’re going to get beat.”

And LSU still has questions to answer:

Will Glenn be an adequate Sunday starter?

Is there sufficient depth in the bullpen to support Joey Bourgeois and Chris Cotton?

Will JaCoby Jones’ performance the past two days — four hits in his past five at-bats — continue and keep him in the leadoff spot?

Will Mark Laird be able to hit SEC pitching after going 2-for-12 in his debut?

Will Ty Ross find his hitting stroke?

Who, if anyone, among Chris Sciambra, Andrew Stevenson, Sean McMullen, Tyler Moore, Chris Chinea and Alex Edward can solidify the third outfield and designated hitter spots?

But the hitting of Mason Katz and Alex Bregman, the pitching of Ryan Eades, Brent Bonvillain and Bourgeois, and superior defense was good enough to win this series.

“We won two out of three in a really tough environment,” said Mainieri, whose team won the title with a 19-11 record last season. “We’ve got 27 more. I’d like to get to 20. You have a pretty good chance to win the league if you do that. We’re two towards that goal.”

If you asked SEC coaches whether they’d take a series win on the road against a contender to start the season, they would say yes to a man.