As the Southeastern Conference regular season winds down, LSU is falling farther away from Vanderbilt and closer to Arkansas.
The West division-leading Tigers battled East-leading Vanderbilt for the overall lead for the first half of the season and had as much as a five-game lead over second-place Arkansas in the West.
But LSU’s first series loss of the season to South Carolina left it 16-5, three games behind Vandy and 2½ games ahead of Arkansas. The Tigers have lost three of their past four league games.
“Over the course of a long season, you’re going to have these moments where there’s a lull,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said after a 4-0 loss to the Gamecocks on Sunday. “You’ve got to grin and bear it and fight through, get back on the horse and go play good ball again.
“We’ve got to get back to playing a little bit more crisp baseball and coming through in some clutch situations.”
Outfielder Mark Laird was not in the starting lineup for the first time in 31 games Sunday. Andrew Stevenson started in center field, and right fielder Jared Foster moved into Laird’s customary No. 2 spot in the batting order.
“I thought Mark was pressing a little bit,” Mainieri said. “He hasn’t done the things for almost a month now that had endeared him to me leading up to the season and during the early part of the season.
“He hasn’t been hitting the ball to the opposite field, he has been elevating too many balls and rolling over on weak ground balls to the right side. And he hasn’t been taking advantage of his speed to make plays in the outfield.”
Laird, who had started every game but one before Sunday, had gone 16 for his past 82 (.195) before entering Sunday’s game in the sixth inning and getting a single in his only at-bat. On Friday, he made an ill-advised attempt at a diving catch, and the ball skipped past him for an RBI triple. Then on Saturday, a fly ball fell between Laird and left fielder Raph Rhymes for another triple when Laird appeared to lose sight of the ball.
Mainieri said Cody Glenn, passed over for Kurt McCune as Sunday’s starter, will likely start against McNeese State on Tuesday, but be limited because he could be back in the rotation for the series finale against Florida on Saturday.
McCune gave up six hits and three runs and lasted just 2.2 innings Sunday in his first start against an SEC team this season.
Left-hander Brent Bonvillain gave the Tigers a chance to get back in the game when he took over to start the fourth with LSU down 3-0 and threw four scoreless innings.
“He was awesome,” Mainieri said. “He kept us in the game.”
Bonvillain allowed just a hit and a walk and he struck out two.
“I pitched good, but if we still come out with a loss, it’s for nothing,” Bonvillain said. “We’re just moving on to the nest game and putting this one behind us.”
After getting ejected from Saturday’s game, Mainieri will be subject to a one-game suspension if he gets ejected in another SEC game.
That seems unlikely given the fact that Mainieri has been ejected only once before in seven seasons with the Tigers. That came in a game against Kentucky in 2007.
SEC rules say, “Game officials have the authority to eject a student-athlete, coach or team representative for misconduct or unsportsmanlike conduct.” Anyone ejected “will receive a written warning cautioning of actions on further like conduct.”
Mainieri was ejected in the top of the ninth after arguing a balk call against Chris Cotton that sent home the Gamecocks’ final run in a 4-2 victory.
“I’ll have to be on my best behavior the rest of the season,” Mainieri said.
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