Simple arithmetic says three is more than two, but the LSU baseball team’s two-out-of-three series win at Arkansas last weekend might have revealed more about the Tigers than those three straight series sweeps that preceded it did.
The sweeps against Auburn and Missouri came against two of the weaker teams in the Southeastern Conference, and the sweep against Kentucky, like the one against Auburn, came at home.
This win, like the SEC-opening series win at Mississippi State, came on the road against a highly ranked team. But it was the adversity the Tigers overcame that made this series especially significant.
Since LSU’s first SEC loss at State on March 17, the Tigers had trailed just twice in league games. Missouri and Kentucky both took Sunday leads, and in both cases, LSU wiped out the deficit in its next at-bat and went on to win.
Coach Paul Mainieri told the team at midseason that it had to be prepared “to respond when we get our noses bloodied.”
On Saturday night, the Tigers’ noses were bloodied as Arkansas took the lead for good in the fourth inning and coasted to an 8-3 win. That sat with the Tigers overnight, and things didn’t start much better Sunday as the Razorbacks took a 1-0 lead in the first.
But in the third, LSU tied the score on Mark Laird’s RBI grounder and went ahead when Alex Bregman followed with a two-run home run.
Arkansas pulled even with runs in the third and fourth before the Tigers prevailed with two runs in the 10th.
LSU had made things look so easy, had played from ahead so much, during the first four series that it never had a chance to show how it would respond to playing uphill. The Tigers went into Sunday not having clinched the series for the first time this season, and they did clinch it in as hard-fought a game as they have had.
They did so after losing starting pitcher Cody Glenn when a line drive went off his leg in the fourth. Though Glenn was teetering, he showed toughness and presence of mind to get a force at home before leaving.
LSU was able to withstand Glenn’s early departure because the bullpen was well rested after Aaron Nola threw his first complete game Friday, and Mainieri was judicious after Saturday’s game got out of hand.
Nick Rumbelow pitched a scoreless two-thirds of an inning, and Brent Bonvillain threw a scoreless 1.1, which got Mainieri to the point where he could stretch out well-rested Joey Bourgeois and Chris Cotton.
Bourgeois’ perfect 2.2-inning stint was one of the key performances of the series, and Cotton got the win after allowing just a bunt single in two innings.
So the SEC season is halfway over, and LSU (13-2) has a four-game lead in the West (and the tiebreaker over second-place Arkansas) and trails Vanderbilt by one game for the overall lead.
Lots more challenges await, and the most important ones don’t arrive until June, but this team has yet to face one it hasn’t handled.
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