LSU baseball fighting for postseason appearances

Published 12:11 am Tuesday, May 17, 2011

BATON ROUGE (AP) — LSU has four games left to make its best possible impression on the NCAA tournament selection committee, and perhaps sneak into the Southeastern Conference tournament in the process.

Following a three-game sweep of Tennessee over the weekend, LSU (33-19, 11-16) still needs help to make the SEC Tournament.

However, with Tuesday night’s game at New Orleans and a three-game series at Mississippi State still on the schedule, the Tigers could miss the SEC tournament but still finish with as many as 37 wins, which might be enough for an at-large bid to the 64-team NCAA tournament.

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LSU has won seven of its last nine SEC games and nine of 11 games overall. The question now is whether the Tigers’ recent surge is coming a little too late.

LSU had to win all three games against Tennessee to realistically stay alive for a postseason berth and a sense of urgency appeared to help.

LSU piled up 50 hits and scored 32 runs in the weekend series, while the Tigers’ pitching staff allowed only 14 hits and six runs.

“It’s one thing to say that these are must wins, but to go out and do it in such convincing fashion, I’m really trying to scramble to find weaknesses in our team from this weekend,” LSU Coach Paul Mainieri said. “I just wish we hadn’t dug ourselves such a big hole early in the season. I feel we’ve reached that point where the kids are really jelling. We still can salvage something this week.”

In Sunday’s 15-5 victory, LSU briefly trailed 5-4 before a rally that included Mikie Mahtook’s SEC-leading 13th home run of the season, a three-run blast in what was likely his final home game for the Tigers. Although Mahtook is a junior, he is expected to forgo his senior season to enter the Major League Baseball draft.

“I think we’re playing our best baseball right now,” Mahtook said. “We slipped up at Alabama when the offense didn’t play well, but in seven out of the last nine SEC games, we’ve hit the ball really well, and if we keep moving forward like that, we’re going to be all right.”

In the ninth inning, Mainieri sent Spencer Ware out to center field to replace Mahtook, giving Tigers fans a chance to say goodbye with a rousing ovation as Mahtook walked to the dugout.

“That was pretty cool,” said Mahtook, who had four RBIs in the game while boosting his team-leading batting average to .370. “I’ve never experienced something like that before. I’ve always said our fans are the best in America.

“We’ve been through so much. We still have an opportunity to do so much. This place has been amazing. It’s been a dream come true to be here.”

Senior pitcher Ben Alsup also thrived in what was likely his last performance at Alex Box. Having been moved from the starting rotation into the bullpen, Alsup came on in the sixth and pitched a pair of scoreless innings to help the Tigers lock down the victory.

“I like this role,” Alsup said. “I think it’s fun. And it helps us, because it’s a little more comforting that a senior can come out of the bullpen.”

Mainieri said he and Alsup had talked about such a change earlier in the season and did not see it as a demotion. Mainieri said he wanted an experienced pitcher to help a thin bullpen with long relief.

If LSU sweeps Mississippi State, the Tigers can sneak into the SEC tournament if Mississippi loses two of three at Arkansas, or if Mississippi sweeps Arkansas. A South Carolina sweep of Alabama or a Tennessee sweep of Auburn also would help LSU make the conference tournament if the Tigers win all three games in Starkville.

However, LSU is 2-10 on the road in the SEC this season, and the Bulldogs also will be seeking a berth in the conference tournament.

“It won’t be easy at Mississippi State,” Mainieri said. “But even if we don’t make the SEC Tournament, we hope our resume will be good enough to make the NCAA Tournament.”