‘Bleeding with confidence’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 13, 2003

BATON ROUGE, La. &045; It’s safe to say the resin bag will stay on the shelf for Clay Harris the rest of the 2003 season. Harris, who pitched

in 16 games last season and tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings against Northwestern St. Feb. 8, has become much more of an asset at the plate for LSU than on the mound during Southeastern Conference play.

The sophomore from Slidell, whose 9-to-5 position is now as a first baseman, is hitting .461 in 13 SEC games after the Tigers took the pine tar out to Ole Miss Sunday, 13-5, to win their ninth consecutive league series.

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&uot;I think we’re all feeding off Clayton (Harris) and getting inspired by the way he’s swinging the bat right now,&uot; said shortstop Aaron Hill, who has 16 hits in his last 25 plate appearances after Sunday’s 3 for 4 performance. &uot;We’re on a mission right now and hitting, as well as seeing the ball unbelievably.&uot;

For the second straight game LSU (24-11, 11-3-1 SEC) starters each racked up at least one hit, as the Tigers banged out 17 Sunday to surpass Saturday’s total of 16.

Tiger starter Nate Bumstead (5-1) and Sunday go together better than red beans and Mondays, as the junior college transfer pitched another dominant rubber match, striking out 10 Ole Miss (21-14, 8-7 SEC) hitters and yielding just three hits.

&uot;The last couple of weeks I’ve been zoned in with my pitches,&uot; said Bumstead, who threw a complete game in the win over South Carolina on April 6. &uot;I wasn’t trying to overpower (Ole Miss) with my fastball because I had them off balance with my changeup and slider.&uot;

Harris, who was 3 for 4 with a career-high six runs-batted-in, smashed the first of two home runs in the bottom of the game’s opening inning when he extended across the plate to bazooka the 2-0 pitch off the second tier of signs beyond the right field fence for the early 3-0 lead.

After Bumstead essentially made his only mistake when Brian Pettway led off the top of the second with a solo job, LSU got the run back in the bottom half and tagged on a pair of runs in the third for a 6-1 advantage.

&uot;We’ve got some good hitting on this team. Pitchers can’t afford to make any mistakes against us,&uot; said Harris, who had an RBI single in the third. &uot;Our offense wasn’t clicking before the SEC season started, but we always knew it was there.&uot;

This was the first weekend since head coach Mike Bianco took over the Ole Miss baseball program several years ago that the Rebels lost a series after opening with a win.

His players watched as LSU pitching dominate them the last 15 innings of the weekend and their counters continue a torrid pace at the plate. Sunday’s loss equaled Saturday’s 14-6 deficit, the worst defeats of the season for the Rebels.

&uot;(LSU) has been too good for two days straight. They were very offensive and it’s what we expected,&uot; said Bianco in his third year with Ole Miss. &uot;Those guys are bleeding with confidence right now. For 18 innings we haven’t been able to stop them.&uot;

Bumstead yawned through the first with nine pitches, as Jon Swearingen and Chas Sterbens delivered loud pings, but harmless fly outs to left and right, respectively. Bumstead then left centerfielder Seth Smith open-mouthed hovering at the plate on a nasty off-speed pitch for the strikeout to retire Ole Miss in order.

He had four more instances were three Rebel batters came up and three Rebel batters went down sequentially, totaling 41 pitches in those innings.

&uot;My changeup was working very effectively for me today and got their hitters to swing at some bad pitches to bail me out a couple times,&uot; Bumstead said.

Harris smashed his eighth homer and collected his 28th and 29th RBIs of the season in the fifth when he cranked Ole Miss starter Eric Fowler’s first pitch over the Lee Michaels’ sign in left field to put the Tigers up 8-1.

In addition to the series and hitting streaks, LSU extended its errorless games ride to five Sunday.

&uot;I swear to goodness I did not know that,&uot; said a shocked LSU head coach Smoke Laval. &uot;I knew we hadn’t kicked it around in a while, but wow that’s pretty good.&uot;

The win means LSU is now atop the Western Division and overall standings with Mississippi State losing to Auburn 7-3 Sunday, somewhere between a half game and a full game ahead of both Auburn (11-4) and Mississippi State (10-4).

Never one to prognosticate with five SEC series left in there, including those other Tigers and rowdy Bulldogs, some players can’t help but imagine an exciting final weekend to the season, more than a month away.

&uot;It’d be fun to be tied or a game back and have to go to either of those places and prove we’re supposed to be in first place,&uot; Harris said. &uot;We have to do our part of course, though.&uot;