Rabalais: Tigers go from frustration to elation in a week’s time

This time a week ago, the LSU Tigers were waterlogged and frustrated, their momentum nonexistent after a weekend series split with Alabama as the result of a rained-out Sunday series finale.

A week later, it’s hard to imagine the Tigers asking to head into the Southeastern Conference tournament on a better roll.

Let’s take a quick stock of LSU’s stocks in the key areas:

Hitting: Up. Way, way up. The Tigers were a picture of near hitting perfection in a record-setting 27-0 demolition of Northwestern State on Tuesday. That carried over to a crucial season-ending series at Auburn, which LSU swept by scores of 10-0, 11-3 and 8-1.

The Tigers raised their team batting average 10 points from a week ago to .281, and the 56 runs they scored in just these past four games represent just over 16 percent of LSU’s season scoring total in the 55 games it has played.

Were Auburn or Northwestern world-beater opponents? No. Auburn needed to win its way into the SEC tournament but failed completely against LSU. The Demons finished in a respectable tie for third in the Southland Conference standings, but neither helped move the Tigers’ RPI meter much. (LSU is still No. 16 according to WarrenNolan.com.)

But you can only play the teams in front of you, and that LSU walloped those teams by a combined score of 56-4 in what has to be one of the largest total margins of victory in a four-game stretch for the Tigers in their history is significant.

The close personal contact of a baseball team can make good or bad hitting contagious. The same for confidence at the plate, or a lack of it. Right now, the Tigers have the right kind of chemistry at the right time.

Pitching: To simply say Aaron Nola pitched like Aaron Nola at Auburn is to minimize and diminish the performance of one of the best pitchers ever to take the mound in the purple and gold. But getting Nola to be typically brilliant in his Friday start at Auburn (seven innings, one run, nine strikeouts, one walk) was not the meaningful accomplishment for LSU this past week. It’s like saying Old Faithful erupted again — an impressive force of nature, but not exactly newsworthy.

The thing that really had to have LSU coach Paul Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn beaming was the work of freshman Jared Poché on Thursday and Kyle Bouman on Saturday.

Poché, the freshman left-hander, has struggled in a number of road starts but was as solid as LSU could have wanted Thursday, setting a tone in the series opener by throwing eight scoreless innings of three-hit ball.

Saturday, Bouman came back and turned in one of his best starting efforts in weeks to earn his first win since March 1 and first win in SEC play. The junior lefty had to squirm out of some threats but left the game with a 3-1 lead after five innings. Unless LSU goes 0-2 in the SEC tournament for the first time under Mainieri, Bouman likely will be called upon to pitch a critical game to either keep the Tigers alive in the tournament or possibly advance LSU to the final.

If you’re LSU, you have to like your chances with Poché and Bouman on the mound better than you did before the Auburn series.

Confidence: Every year and every team is different, but the fact remains that LSU returns several key players who know what it was like to win last year’s SEC tournament and are probably aware that LSU has won four of the past six tournaments since 2008. (The Tigers didn’t qualify for the SEC or NCAA tournaments in 2011.)

LSU has won more tournaments (10) and tournament games (68) than any other school, including a stellar 18-4 mark under Mainieri. That makes Hoover Metropolitan Stadium as comfortable a place as the Tigers are likely to play in away from Alex Box Stadium.

Speaking of The Box, though LSU’s 40-14-1 record is pretty strong, the Tigers probably still have games to win in Hoover, Alabama, if they hope to be an NCAA regional host next week. If LSU wins the tournament again, the Tigers will make a strong case to be a top-eight national seed.

There’s a lot riding on their showing in the SEC tournament for the Tigers. But there are also a lot of positive trends that LSU could ride to another SEC tournament title.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter at @RabalaisAdv.

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