Rabalais: Crisis averted for LSU baseball team

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU's JaCoby Jones, left, slaps the hand of assistant coach Will Davis as Jones rounds third base on his sixth-inning grand slam Saturday, May 4, 2013, against Florida at Alex Box Stadium. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU's JaCoby Jones, left, slaps the hand of assistant coach Will Davis as Jones rounds third base on his sixth-inning grand slam Saturday, May 4, 2013, against Florida at Alex Box Stadium.

There was no pushing of the panic button after LSU’s previous two Southeastern Conference series, but it was definitely being polished to a high gloss.

It is hardly unusual for a team to split a string of six games in this insanely competitive conference. But now all is right with the LSU baseball world — for a week, at least.

On a brilliant blue, cooler-than-possible-for-May Saturday afternoon, the LSU Tigers were a match for the elements. After Thursday’s thrust-and-parry pitching duel and Friday’s unveiling of the latest masterpiece from the Aaron Nola gallery, the Tigers turned their bats into brooms and swept the Florida Gators away with thunderous ferocity.

Florida scored the game’s first two runs in the first inning and the last four in a bat-around ninth.

In between, LSU simply crushed it. Eighteen runs. Nineteen hits. A colossal grand slam by JaCoby Jones that almost smashed off his image on the video scoreboard behind the left-field bleachers.

The message LSU delivered said, despite a wobbly fortnight against Alabama and South Carolina, the Tigers are still one of the very best teams in their proud history and one of the best teams in the country this season.

Saturday’s victory pushed LSU’s record to 43-6 overall and 19-5 in the SEC. This at the expense of a Florida team that was hotter than the Tigers coming in, having won 11 of its past 13 games.

Even if LSU loses its last seven games, which seems more unlikely than a cool day in May, the Tigers would still have an outstanding 43-13 regular-season worksheet to take into the postseason. As it is, LSU is two wins away from tying the best 56-game win total in school history, a 45-11 mark set by 1997’s College World Series champions.

“It felt great,” first baseman Mason Katz said of the way the Tigers played against Florida. “The last couple of weekends, we didn’t play our best ball.”

The previous two SEC series were out of character for this LSU team. Against Alabama and South Carolina, the Tigers found themselves.

“We’re a dangerous team,” Katz said.

As dangerous as any, a team that when on its game can hit, run, field, throw and pitch. A team worthy of being in the conversation as the nation’s other top two national title contenders, No. 1 North Carolina (42-4) and No. 2 Vanderbilt (41-6).

“Those are two great teams to be mentioned with,” left fielder Raph Rhymes said. “I think we deserve it.”

The odd thing for this LSU team is that it’s on pace to win the most SEC games in school history and likely will not have a regular-season title to show for it.

Vandy ran its SEC record to 21-2 on Saturday with a 5-2 win at South Carolina. LSU matched its SEC win total for all of last season, a season in which 19-11 was good enough to win the championship.

No need to panic. The Tigers again have bigger titles in mind.