East: LSU could be set for another historic run

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU outfielder Raph Rhymes and LSU infielder Mason Katz, right, hug and then leave the field in the top of the second inning against Ole Miss on Saturday May 18, 2013, in Baton Rouge.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU outfielder Raph Rhymes and LSU infielder Mason Katz, right, hug and then leave the field in the top of the second inning against Ole Miss on Saturday May 18, 2013, in Baton Rouge.

By Les East

Advocate sportswriter

LSU spent much of the weekend celebrating its storied baseball past with the dedication of Skip Bertman Field and a reunion of its 1993 College World Series championship team.

Arguably the most distinguished coach in college baseball history and one of his most remarkable teams were fully deserving of the spotlight and the remembrances.

But this weekend was also a celebration of the present — the unprecedented success of the 2013 Tigers.

No Bertman team — not the ’93 team or any of his four other national champions — won as many games as the 48 Paul Mainieri’s team did this regular season — even when they played more than the current norm of 56 games. None of Bertman’s seven Southeastern Conference championship teams matched the 23-7 league mark of this year’s West Division champs.

Mainieri called this team’s string of accomplishments “mind-numbing.”

LSU won nine of 10 SEC series, the exception coming when it lost two straight games — its only losing streak of the season — to South Carolina after winning the series opener three weeks ago.

The Tigers won all five SEC road series, getting one of their four sweeps when they went to Missouri.

They weren’t able to complete a fifth sweep Saturday when Ole Miss came from behind to win 11-9 in a less-than-sterling regular-season finale in which Alex Bregman, Christian Ibarra and Ty Ross didn’t play and Raph Rhymes and Mason Katz were pulled after one inning.

Still, the makeshift lineup battered Rebels starter Bobby Wahl, one of the best pitchers in the country, and knocked him out during a seven-run third inning.

“That just shows how good a team we are,” Katz said. “We’re so deep, if anything happened or guys aren’t playing great and we have to substitute, those things can happen.”

Mainieri’s midweek approach to this game nearly yielded an improbable victory, but Ryan Eades and Kevin Berry surrendered two home runs apiece, and the Rebels had 14 hits and scored the final six runs. It was an ugly pitching performance as the Tigers prepare to head to Hoover, Ala., to begin play in the SEC tournament Wednesday.

Ole Miss scored the most runs LSU has allowed in an SEC game this season, but just as the loss doesn’t diminish this team’s accomplishments, the pitching in the finale doesn’t weaken the staff’s résumé.

“We’re not going to dwell on that,” said pitching coach Alan Dunn, whose group has the second-lowest ERA in the SEC. “Our goals are ahead of us. I’ve been so pleased with how our guys have thrown the baseball.”

And when the Tigers next take the field, they will hand the ball to Aaron Nola, who got the weekend off to rest after going 10-0 in the regular season.

“We’re going to do what we’ve been doing all year long,” Dunn said.

“We’re not changing anything.”

Why would they?

If this team performs in the postseason as it did in the regular season, some time down the road, it could be coming back to Skip Bertman Field for a curtain call.