HOOVER, Ala. — LSU and Ole Miss met less than three weeks ago in Oxford, Miss., and they will meet again at Regions Park on Thursday morning in an elimination game in the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.
The Tigers lost their tourney opener against Mississippi State 3-2 Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the Rebels staved off elimination with a 2-0 victory against Arkansas. Ole Miss lost its tourney opener to Kentucky 2-0 on Tuesday.
LSU won two out of three against the Rebels, prevailing 4-3 in 13 innings in the series opener, falling 7-4 in the second game and having one of their biggest offensive games of the season in a 12-3 victory in the series finale.
The Tigers will start Kevin Gausman, who gave up six hits and three runs in 7.2 innings in the opener, and Ole Miss’ likely starter is R.J. Hively, who pitched six innings of relief in the Friday night marathon, giving up four hits and two runs and getting the loss.
Mainieri stacks the order
LSU coach Paul Mainieri tailored his batting order Wednesday to try to score a few runs against Mississippi State ace right-hander Chris Stratton. Mainieri moved No. 3 hitter Mason Katz and No. 4 hitter Raph Rhymes up to bat behind leadoff hitter Austin Nola and followed with all three left-handed hitters — Tyler Moore, Grant Dozar and switch hitter Arby Fields — in a row.
“(Stratton) has proven he’s one of the best pitchers in the country and I have a lot of respect for the kid,” Mainieri said. “I thought we’d try something different. I just wanted to stack our best hitters together thinking we maybe could have a couple of rallies in the game and maybe scratch a run or two against him and it looked like we might do that in the first inning.”
Stratton hit Nola with a pitch and Rhymes singled with one out before Moore and Dozar struck out.
The three lefties were a combined 1-for-11 with five strikeouts.
Ross pinch hits in return
After being sidelined for LSU’s final six games of the regular season, sophomore catcher Ty Ross got the call as a pinch-hitter for the Tigers in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday, striking out against Mississippi State reliever Jonathan Holder to end the game.
Ross had not played since May 11, the night before having his appendix removed.
“He’s obviously made tremendous progress or I would not have put him in at the end,” Mainieri said.
Ross returned to practice Monday, and Mainieri said he had looked good in recent batting practice sessions. It is unclear how soon Ross will resume his duties behind the plate.
“We’re going to see how he feels tomorrow,” Mainieri said. “I know he wants to catch, but I can’t foresee a situation (Thursday) where he catches an entire game.”
Freshman Moore, who has spent most of the season as LSU’s first baseman, got another start at catcher Wednesday with regular Katz staying in Moore’s spot at first. Backup catcher Jordy Snikeris, who originally replaced Ross, has been sidelined with a bruised finger on his throwing hand.
Jones runs into big out
LSU had one of its better chances to score Wednesday go to the wayside when JaCoby Jones, after reaching on a walk to lead off the third inning, was thrown out at third trying to advance all the way from first base on a two-out single to center by Rhymes.
State center fielder Hunter Renfroe threw a strike to Daryl Norris at third as Jones motored around second and through coach Javi Sanchez’s stop sign.
“I wanted him to try to steal. I had him on his own for seven pitches and he never attempted to steal second base there,” Mainieri said. “Then when we get the base hit, baseball rules tell you, “Don’t ever get thrown out at third with two outs.” Javi’s trying to hold him up and he ran through a stop sign and then he gets thrown out at third base.”
Rhymes, who leads the nation with a .470 batting average, is one of 35 semifinalists for the 2012 Dick Howser Trophy, which is presented annually to the top player in collegiate baseball.
The award will be presented at TD Ameritrade Stadium in Omaha on June 15, the first day of f the College World Series. The Dick Howser Trophy, given in memory of the former Florida State University All-America shortstop and major league player and manager, who died of brain cancer in 1987, is regarded as one of college baseball’s most prestigious awards. Criteria for consideration of the trophy include performance on the field, leadership, moral character and courage.
Tigers receive trophy
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive presented Mainieri the league’s regular-season championship trophy near home plate prior to Wednesday’s game. Several members of the team came out of the dugout to help Mainieri accept the hardware.
LSU won a race to the wire for the overall conference title, completing a series victory over South Carolina on the final day of the regular season and then receiving help when Florida and Kentucky both lost. The Tigers edged out the Gamecocks by one-half game and Florida and Kentucky by one game each.
With their second conference championship in four seasons, LSU celebrated its league-best 15th regular-season title in school history.