HOOVER, Ala. — LSU will begin Southeastern Conference tournament play against the same opponent it began the conference regular season against — Mississippi State.
The seventh-seeded Bulldogs defeated Arkansas 9-1 Tuesday afternoon to set up the meeting with the top-seeded Tigers, who had a first-round bye.
The Bulldogs visited Alex Box Stadium in mid-March and LSU won two out of three. The Tigers won the first game 3-2 in 10 innings, rallying after State had taken a 2-1 lead in the top of the inning. LSU won another tight game the next night, prevailing 4-3, before the Bulldogs won the finale easily 7-1.
State right-hander Chris Stratton, who struck out 17 Tigers in the series opener in March, could face them again. Bulldogs coach John Cohen was debating late Tuesday whether to start Stratton on Wednesday or give him another day’s rest.
Mainieri keeps Tigers loose
LSU coach Paul Mainieri’s team has won all three SEC tournaments for which it has qualified, compiling a 13-1 record. The Tigers failed to qualify for the tourney twice in Mainieri’s previous five seasons.
“He doesn’t change anything,” outfielder/first baseman Mason Katz said of Mainieri. “A lot of coaches may change in the post-season or press when things get tight. But he’s the same guy in the first game and the last game. The guys who were in Omaha (for the 2008 College World Series) said he was the same there.
“We follow his lead. When he stays calm, it keeps us calm and makes it much easier to play.”
Moore expected to start
Tyler Moore is expected to make his third consecutive start at catcher Wednesday as Ty Ross (appendectomy) and Jordy Snikeris (finger contusion) continue to rehab.
Ross is unavailable Wednesday, though he might bat or even catch an inning later in the tournament. Snikeris is available to bat but has trouble throwing because of soreness in a ligament in the knuckle of the index finger on his throwing hand. Moore has been resting a sore catching hand and trainer Jon Michelini put together special padding for Moore’s glove to help. Senior infielder Grant Dozar is next in line to catch and has practiced there in recent days.
Treating it like a Friday
Even though the Tigers are beginning the tournament on a Wednesday, junior outfielder Raph Rhymes, who leads the nation with a .469 batting average, said it might as well be Friday.
“It’s just like every SEC weekend series,” Rhymes said. “You try to win the first one, then you worry about the second one. That’s been our approach all year, and we’re going to stick to it.”
LSU was 9-1 in series openers, which was largely due to the fact that sophomore right-hander Kevin Gausman, one of the top pitchers in the country, started all but one of them.
Big shots in Hoover
Mainieri said the players really enjoy the tournament because of the high level of competition, how well it is run and the ability to mingle with their competitors around the team hotel. Then there’s one other perk.
“The city has police escorts that take you to the games,” Mainieri said, “and that makes the guys really feel like big shots.”