Razorbacks on deck for surging Tigers at SEC tourney

Alex Bregman hit the ball so hard Wednesday that his coach had concerns for the other teams’ defenders.

“His swing was just like lightning today,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “I was scared for the health of their defensive players, to be honest with you.”

Bregman drove in five runs, had a three-run home run and two more base hits in the Tigers’ 11-1 pummeling of Vanderbilt on Wednesday in their Southeastern Conference tournament opener.

No. 3 seed LSU (41-14-1) advanced to play No. 7 seed Arkansas (37-21) in a key game Thursday in this event. The winner moves to Saturday’s semifinal, receiving a bye Friday.

Bregman continued Wednesday to bust out of a midseason hitting skid — at just the right time, too.

“Boy,” Mainieri said, “if he can keep that going, we’re going to have some fun in the postseason.”

Bregman is 8 for his last 19 at-bats, and he’s driven in 13 runs in the past eight days. That includes a whopping eight RBIs in the 27-0 romp over Northwestern State last week.

Bregman’s three-run homer Wednesday came off Vanderbilt reliever Hayden Stone, a guy who had not allowed a long ball all season. He took a 2-2 pitch over the left-field wall of the expansive Hoover Met. The park is 340 feet down the foul lines.

“I saw five straight sliders,” Bregman said. “I swung through the slider before that. (Got) another slider down and in and was fortunate enough to put a good swing on it.”

Bregman’s having somewhat of a sophomore slump. He’s spent much of the season batting below .300. He hit .369 last season as a freshman.

His 3-for-4 day Wednesday boosted his average to .301, finishing a game with an average above .300 for the first time since March 29.

Nola again

Arkansas’ prize for winning its first two games at the SEC tournament: Aaron Nola.

The Tigers will pitch their ace against the Hogs in Thursday’s critical game. The last time Nola hurled against Arkansas on April 11, he set a career high with 13 strikeouts in a Game 1 victory in LSU’s series win over the Razorbacks.

Nola (9-1, 1.42) walked two and allowed just four hits and two runs in seven innings in that game.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “You hope to make contact.”

The Razorbacks don’t have the good fortune of starting their own ace. Arkansas has thrown its best two arms already. Van Horn’s team didn’t finish high enough in the league to get one of the four byes through Tuesday’s single-elimination round.

They threw Chris Oliver in a 2-1 win over Ole Miss on Wednesday after using Trey Killian on Tuesday in a 4-0 win over Texas A&M. Arkansas’ No. 2 starter, Jalen Beeks (5-4, 2.11), did not make the trip because of injury.

Van Horn’s pitching plan for Thursday is similar the one Mainieri has used in Game 3s this season.

“We’ll piece it together,” he said.

Mercy, mercy

Jake Fraley, who entered to pinch-hit Wednesday, officially had two at-bats in the win over Vanderbilt.

Unofficially, he had three.

Fraley reached on an error in what was the last play, unofficially, of an odd ending to LSU’s win over the Commodores. The Tigers won via the 10-run rule in seven innings, but the umpires forgot to end the game, allowing Fraley to bat.

Bregman drove in Mark Laird to make it 11-1 before the error on Fraley’s grounder. After that play, SEC assistant commissioner Gregg Mattox ran onto the field and stopped play. The crowd gasped before the more than 500 LSU fans roared when realizing the result was final.

Fraley was not given an at-bat, and the error was removed from the scoreboard.

“There is a run rule,” Mainieri said. “They went over it at the pre-tournament conference call, but you don’t really think it’s going to ever come into play. I totally forgot about it.”

A rough, surprising start

LSU expected Vanderbilt to throw right-handed ace Tyler Beede.

The Commodores instead went with Jared Miller, who allowed just two hits and one run in 6.2 innings against LSU in a meeting in March.

The Tigers rocked Miller this go-round. He walked three and allowed five hits and four earned runs in less than four innings on the mound.

Mainieri did not start Fraley or Tyler Moore, a pair of players hitting a combined 18-for-31 last week, because LSU faced a left-handed batter.

Lagniappe

LSU moves to 19-4 under Mainieri in the SEC tournament, including 4-2 in tournament openers. … The Tigers beat Arkansas 5-3 and 5-4 earlier this season, getting a walk-off single from Mark Laird to clinch the series in Game 2. The Hogs won 10-4 in the Sunday series finale. ... Kade Scivicque’s single in the second inning gave him five hits in his last seven at-bats, starting with Game 1 at Auburn. He entered the Auburn series 3 for 37 in his previous 11 SEC games.

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv. For more coverage of LSU baseball, follow our Line Drives blog.