Seniors Raph Rhymes and Mason Katz have been in sync during LSU’s seven-game winning streak.
Rhymes has hit .458 with four doubles and eight RBIs from the No. 4 spot in the batting order. Katz has come right behind him and batted .409 with two doubles, a triple, a homer and 11 RBI.
They both will try to keep it up when No. 3 LSU (12-1) plays Washington (4-8) in the opener of a three-game series at 7 p.m. Friday in Alex Box Stadium.
The winning streak began less than 24 hours after the Tigers’ only loss of the season, 9-4 against BYU on Feb. 23. The two players and their families went to dinner together after the loss.
“We talked about how we needed to start stepping up as leaders,” Rhymes said before practice Thursday. “You can only do so much vocally. There’s a time need you need to lead by example on the field. It was time for us to get going.”
The next afternoon, a scoreless game against Southeastern Louisiana that had been suspended in the bottom of the first inning two nights earlier was resumed. Katz was at bat with a 1-1 count when the game was suspended and he hit the second pitch he saw after the resumption for a three-run homer.
Katz finished the game with three hits and six RBIs, and Rhymes had four hits and five RBIs.
“We needed to look in the mirror,” Katz said. “Raph and I are like the same unit. We go together and have the same mindset about everything. We needed to do more for our team.”
Both players have 11-game hitting streaks that began before the loss to BYU, but their productivity has soared in the last six games.
“We were winning besides that one game but we weren’t scoring like we knew we would,” Katz said of LSU’s 5-0 start. “Me and Raph weren’t having very hot starts, we weren’t having very good at bats.”
Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said he was encouraged when LSU won its first five games without his two most proven hitters being at their best.
“There aren’t a lot of certainties in life but I was pretty sure that Katz and Rhymes would hit this year,” Mainieri said. “Katz and Rhymes are really good hitters and I knew it was just a matter of time.”
Rhymes, who batted a school-record .431 last season, leads the team with a .396 average and five doubles. Katz, the leading home run hitter with 13 last season, is batting ,333 and leads the team in RBI (17), total bases (28) and slugging percentage (.583).
“We had struggled a little bit early,” Rhymes said, “but we started getting some confidence and started clicking at the same time.”
This is the last weekend series before the Tigers begin Southeastern Conference play next Friday at Mississippi State.
Mainieri said the Huskies’ pitching staff, especially the Friday night starter — junior right-hander Austin Voth (2-1, 2.95 earned run average) — will help prepare his team for SEC play.
Voth leads the Pac-12 with 31 strikeouts, including a career-high 14 against Lamar in an 8-2 victory two weeks ago.
“He’s legit,” Mainieri said. “He’s like a Friday night arm in the SEC, which is exactly what we want to go up against.”
Mainieri, who used all 16 position players (starting 14) and 10 pitchers in lopsided mid-week victories against Stephen F. Austin (9-2) and Sacred Heart (10-2), said he’ll use his “more traditional lineup” over the weekend.
“I want to treat these games as much like I’ll treat the games next week as possible,” he said. “I’m expecting a really competitive series, which is exactly what you want on the last weekend leading into SEC play.”
Katz, who faced Voth in the Cape Cod League play last summer, said the Tigers are eager to start conference play.
“After the opening night high goes away,” Katz said, “it’s kind of like you’re waiting for the big thing to start and when you’ve got a guy of this caliber coming to pitch against you it’s here. This is the kind of guy you see in the SEC, running it up there 95, 96 miles per hour. This is what we’re going to see from here on out.”
Mainieri said LHP Cody Glenn will remain the Sunday starter. Glenn threw seven scoreless innings in his first Sunday start against Nicholls State last week. Brent Bonvillain, who has made three starts, will move to the bullpen. … Mainieri said freshman RHP Russell Reynolds, who hasn’t pitched in the last seven games because of a sore arm, could be available when Nicholls State returns to The Box on Wednesday. … Reynolds and Hunter Newman are candidates for midweek starts with Bonvillain settling in the bullpen. ... Washington Athletic Director Scott Woodward, a native of Baton Rouge and alumnus of Catholic High School, worked at LSU as director of external affairs from 2000-2004.